FRS 3: Reporting financial performance
| by Paul Robins
01 Jul 1999
This article is one of a series that examines all the Financial Reporting Standards (FRSs) that are currently in issue. From the February to May issues of the Newsletter we concentrated on the four FRSs that were issued in August October 1998. New FRSs are often examined first in paper 13 rather than paper 10. Therefore it might be said that these articles have been primarily directed at paper 13 students. These articles are on ACCA's internet site at http://www.acca.org.uk/publications. The pendulum certainly swings back this month since FRS 3 is a key standard for paper 10 students and it appears fairly often in the paper 10 examination. The FRS is important at paper 13 too but is unlikely to be the subject of a full question at Module F stage.
The overall objective of the FRS is to require all entities falling within its scope to highlight a range of important components of financial performance to aid users in understanding the performance achieved by an entity in a period and to assist them in forming a basis for their assessment of future results and cash flows. It was felt by the ASB that financial statements, as previously constituted, placed too much emphasis on one single performance indicator, namely profit attributable to ordinary shareholders.
As its name suggests, this FRS contains a number of key reporting requirements. First of all, we'll look at the changes that FRS 3 makes to the look of the profit and loss account. One of the key objectives of FRS 3 is to direct the attention of the user to a number of key indicators from this statement. Prior to the issue of FRS 3, it was widely felt that too much attention was paid to one figure from the profit and loss account the profit attributable to shareholders. FRS 3 uses a layered format to highlight a number of important components of financial performance. The important components which FRS 3 requires to be highlighted are:
Format of the profit and loss account
A format for the profit and loss account, drawn up in accordance with the provisions of FRS 3, follows:
Notes to students
1 The figures that are included above are for illustrative purposes only and cannot as such be verified.
2 The basic requirement of the FRS is to enable users to separately identify profits on continuing and discontinued operations down to and including operating profit level. In the pro forma that appears above, each line of the profit and loss account shows the separate analysis that is required. The FRS requires that the analysis of turnover and operating profit is actually provided on the face of the profit and loss account. However, the analysis of cost of sales and other operating expenses can be given in the note if desired.
3 Where new operations are acquired in the period that have a material effect on the entity then FRS 3 requires that they be disclosed separately as part of continuing operations down to operating profit level. The minimum disclosure that is required on the face of the profit and loss account is turnover and operating profit the analysis of cost of sales and other operating expenses can be given in the notes to the financial statements.
Definition of a discontinued operation
One of the things you will notice about this format is that there are a number of indicators of performance that could be selected by a user. In particular, it is possible for a user to separately identify the results of continuing operations from the results of discontinued operations down to and including the operating profit level. Therefore, it's very important that we know exactly what a discontinued operation is. FRS 3 defines a discontinued operation in detail. The definition is shown below:
A discontinued operation is an operation that is sold or terminated and that satisfies
all of the following conditions:
You can see that the definition and identification of a discontinued operation is key to the reporting of financial performance. Clearly a user of the financial statements will regard such operations as not being important in assessing the future prospects of the business. Therefore, there is an obvious temptation for preparers to report all loss making activities as discontinued operations and to load as many costs as possible into those operations! However, the definition is such that not all operations which are closed or terminated will in fact be classified as discontinued and the FRS states that only income and costs which are directly related to discontinued operations should appear under the heading of discontinued operations.
Recognition of a decision to sell or terminate an operation
An issue which is closely related to the identification of an operation as continuing or discontinued is the timing of recognising the consequences of a decision to sell or terminate. The FRS says that as soon as a business makes a decision to sell or terminate an operation to which it is clearly committed then the business should make a provision for all the obligations which have been incurred that are not expected to be covered by future profits of that operation. The provision will be for the direct costs of terminating the operation and any operating losses of the operation from the date the decision is made to the date the termination is expected to be completed. Such a provision may of course appear in the continuing or the discontinued operations category, depending on whether the relevant opera tions qualifies as a discontinued operation in the year the provision is made.
There is a clear link here between the requirements of FRS 3 and those of FRS 12, Provisions and Contingencies. This relatively new FRS was discussed in an article in the March edition of the Student Accountant. FRS 12 states that a provision is appropriate when a legal or constructive obligation exists for the entity. Whilst the term `legal obligation' is fairly clear and unambiguous the term `constructive obligation' requires some more explanation. A constructive obligation arises when an entity has, by its actions, effectively committed itself to a plan from which it cannot realistically withdraw. Evidence of this is normally taken from prior practice of the entity. This means that where previous transactions of the same type were at the same stage as the current transaction is at the balance sheet date then a legal obligation followed shortly after. Under FRS 12 mere intention to act is not normally indicative of a constructive obligation the entity must at least have begun to take steps to implement its plans.
Exceptional items and ordinary activities
The FRS 3 definition of exceptional items is given below:
We can sum this definition up by saying that exceptional items are
large, unusual items which are derived from the ordinary activities of the business. They could, of course, relate to continuing or discontinued operations. A question which this raises is, what exactly
are ordinary activities. FRS 3 gives the following definition of ordinary activities:
One thing which should strike you on reading this definition is that it's so wide that it includes virtually anything! In fact, it's virtually impossible to think of
any transaction which would fall outside the definition of ordinary activities. We'll think about this again in a moment when we come to talk about extraordinary items.
All exceptional items need to be disclosed separately, either in a note to the financial statements or on the face of the profit and loss account. Whilst the FRS generally allows note disclosure for exceptional items, it does lay down that certain exceptional items must be disclosed
on the face of the profit and loss account. The exceptional items which must be shown in this way are:
In addition to the requirement to disclose certain exceptional items separately on the face of the profit and loss account, there is also the requirement to show the taxation and (in the case of consolidated financial statements) the minority interest attributable to such exceptional items as a note.
Extraordinary items are defined in FRS 3 as:
You may have noticed that extraordinary items fall outside the ordinary activities of the business. We have already noticed that the definition of ordinary activities is so wide as to include virtually anything. Therefore, it could well be impossible for any transaction to be shown as an extraordinary item! Consequently, the advice should be don't worry about it too much.
Disclosure of Earnings Per Share [EPS]
You will probably be aware that companies have been required to disclose their EPS on the face of the P/L account ever since SSAP 3 was issued way back in 1972. The EPS focuses on the profit attributable to the equity shareholders and expresses the profit (in pence) per equity share. SSAP 3 has recently been withdrawn and replaced by FRS 14 (discussed in the May 1999 Student Accountant). However, the basic requirements regarding the computation and disclosure of EPS haven't changed too much.
FRS 3 is seeking to eliminate ways of diverting attention away from unfavourable transactions which have occurred during the year. In the past the EPS of a company was computed on the profit before extraordinary items so the attraction of designating a loss as an extraordinary loss
was that it didn't affect EPS. FRS 3 has put a stop to this by requiring that EPS be computed on the profit after extraordinary items. You could accuse the ASB of doing a `belt and braces' job here, because the likelihood of any losses actually being designated as extraordinary is quite low, as we've already seen.
You could argue that the EPS statistic is a bit out of step with the spirit of FRS 3 as it requires users to focus on one single measure of performance the very thing FRS 3 is seeking to move away from! Therefore, whilst FRS 3 affirms that the EPS figure is to be calculated and disclosed based on the profit attributable to equity shareholders it does permit, and some would even say encourage, companies to compute an alternative EPS-based statistic such as, for example, the profit on continuing operations. The rationale is that such a statistic would be potentially more useful to a user as an indicator of future performance. Where an alternative EPS is calculated, then companies are required to reconcile the alternative EPS to the EPS calculated in accordance with FRS 14.
The Statement of Total Recognised Gains and Losses
We've already talked about what is probably the major reason FRS 3 was issued, being to make the profit and loss account more informative. Another main objective of the FRS is to enable the user to reconcile the gains and losses which are reported in the profit and loss account with the total gains and losses which the reporting entity has made in the period. Whilst it is certainly true that the vast majority of gains and losses
will go through the profit and loss account there are certain gains and losses which don't. A number of gains and losses are either permitted or required by Company Law or Accounting Standards to be dealt with through reserves. Examples include:
Prior period adjustments are defined in FRS 3 as:
FRS 3 requires that reporting entities produce a statement which shows
all the gains and losses which have been made in a particular period. Not surprisingly, such a statement is called a Statement of Total Recognised Gains and Losses.
Let's see how the profit of £29 million which we saw earlier might find its way into a Statement of Total Recognised Gains and Losses. The statement is as follows:
Once again the figures that are included here are for illustrative purposes only.
Reconciliation of movements on shareholder's funds
Notice that dividends aren't included in the Statement of Total Recognised Gains and Losses. This is because they are distributions of gains made in this year or previous years. The Statement of Total Recognised Gains and Losses will
help users reconcile the movement in net assets in the balance sheet to gains and losses reported in the profit and loss account. They won't do the whole job, though, because there are changes in net assets which occur in a period which are nothing to do with gains and losses. Therefore, a third statement is required, the Reconciliation of Movements in Shareholders Funds. The purpose of this statement is to highlight these other changes. A pro forma appears below:
So we can hopefully see how the three statements we've looked at provide the user with useful information on the financial performance of the reporting entity. The profit and loss account highlights a number of important indicators of performance and through the Statement of Total Recognised Gains and Losses can be related back to the increase in net assets as shown in the Reconciliation of Movements in Shareholders Funds.
Note of historical cost profits and losses
This statement is only sometimes required. The reason for this is that many companies prepare their primary financial statements on a pure historical cost basis anyway so the statement wouldn't add anything. The most common reason for departure is where a company decides to revalue some or all of its fixed assets. In such cases the amounts included in the profit and loss account in respect of depreciation and profit or loss on sale will be affected by the decision to revalue. Given the lack of standardisation which currently exists regarding the revaluation of fixed assets (even after the issue of FRS 15 revaluation of fixed assets is optional) the ASB considers that a note of the historical cost profits and losses would be useful for a company whose historical cost profit differed materially from its reported profit.
An example of a suitable note is given below (consistent with the profit and loss format already used):
Changes in accounting policy UITF 14
Given the concept of consistency and the hopeful rarity of a company making a
fundamental error you wouldn't expect to see prior year adjustments too often. Indeed, the 1985 Companies Act requires inter-alia that accounting policies should be applied consistently from one financial year to the next. A change of policy is only permitted if it appears to the directors that there are special reasons for the departure from the old policy. In such cases, the Act requires disclosure of `particulars of the departure'. The UITF has received legal advice that in order to comply with this disclosure details of the effect of the policy change on the results for the current year will also be required. Consequently they have UITF Abstract 14, Disclosure of Changes in Accounting Policy. UITF 14 requires that, where a change in accounting policy occurs, then, in addition to the disclosures required by FRS 3, an indication should be given of the effect on the results of the current year.
FRS 3 Dissenting voice
One of the members of the ASB dissented from the standard in the form it was published. This is because the FRS contains no requirement to analyse the results of entities acquired and disposed of during the year below the profit before tax line. In particular, the effect of taxation and minority interests on the gain or loss on disposals is not highlighted. Taxation on the profits on disposal of businesses are based on the difference between the sales proceeds and the cost of the investment. In a group situation therefore the accounting and taxable profits could often be materially different in a disposal situation. FRS 3 would not require such differences to be highlighted and so (in the view of the dissenter) the usefulness of financial statements to users could well be adversely affected. The dissenter suggests that the headings profit before tax, profit after tax and minorities and earnings per share should all be analysed into continuing and discontinued operations.
FRS 3 Auditing implications
SSAP 6 (which FRS 3 has replaced) was in many ways a nightmare for the auditor. The definitions of extraordinary and exceptional items were capable of being interpreted in so many different ways that it was almost impossible to `police' practice in this area.
The additional guidance given in FRS 3 concerning the application of the definitions is likely to make the auditor's task easier in this respect. Auditors will also welcome the change to the definition of `Earnings' for EPS purposes. The fact that, under the old SSAP 3, exceptional items affected EPS whereas extraordinary items did not, often seemed to be a crucial factor influencing the choice by the client of the accounting treatment of `unusual items'.
The classification of profit and loss items into continuing and discontinued operations will need to be policed very carefully by the auditor. There will be a temptation for clients to `hide' loss making activities in discontinued operations if at all possible so as to avoid their being used in a `trend' analysis of performance.
FRS 3 has a very important role to play in enhancing the quality of financial reporting. Its two key aims are:
The first of these aims is achieved by the analysis of profits
into continuing and discontinued operations, with separate disclosure
of unusual items. The second aim is achieved by requiring a
statement of total recognised gains and losses and a statement of movement
on shareholders funds.
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