Peeling away financial reporting issues one layer at a time

Peeling the Onion on the New Business Combination Standards: FAS 141R and FAS 160

This post examines the onion skin, if you will, of the new business combination standards. I'm going to explain the differences between the so-called 'purchase' method of accounting and the new 'acquisition' method. As is my habit, let's begin with a simple example.

Assume that ParentCo acquires 70% of the outstanding shares of SubCo for $1,000. Additional facts are as follows:

  • ParentCo estimates that the fair value of 100% of SubCo is $1,405:
    • You should note that the fair value of SubCo may not ordinarily be calculated by extrapolating the purchase price paid to the remaining shares outstanding (i.e., $1,000/70% = $1,429 is not ordinarily the fair value). The reason is that a portion of the purchase price contains a payment for the ability to exercise control.
    • In this case, the control premium would be $55, calculated as follows:

($1000 – .7($1405))/(1-.7) = $55

    • It may be difficult to estimate the control premium, because it may have to be derived from an estimate of the full fair value of the acquired company, as above.
  • The book value of SubCo's assets and liabilities approximate their fair value, except for one asset with a remaining useful life of 10 years. For that asset, the fair value exceeds the book value by $100.

The table below displays the following: (1) respective balance sheets of ParentCo and Subco at the date of acquisition, (2) consolidated results under the purchase and acquisition methods, and (3) the goodwill calculations under each method.


The purchase method had a lot of warts, but it took the FASB decades to replace it. In essence, it was nothing more than a slavish application of the historic cost principle to mute the future effect of an acquisition on operating expenses. The idea was that if you purchased 70 percent of the outstanding shares of another company, then revaluation of assets would take place only to the extent of the shares purchased. Among other things, this meant that the basis of the assets of a subsidiary acquired in business combination transaction would be the sum of the fair value of the portion acquired and the historic cost of the portion not acquired. This is illustrated above by the calculation of consolidated assets: $2,000 + $800 + .7($900 – 800) = $2,870. The mix of fair value and historic cost to measure one asset reminds me of something my father would say when someone (mainly me) was less than fully committed to a principle: "you can't be half pregnant."

The acquisition method represents a full commitment to fair value, yet ironically, the FASB still doesn't require fair value for all assets and liabilities assumed (more on that in another post). In other words, if the transaction results in the acquisition of control of an entity, assets acquired and liabilities assumed will be initially measured at 100% of their fair value–even if less than 100% of the outstanding shares are purchased. That's why consolidated assets are $30 higher in the illustration under the acquisition method.

The example also illustrates two other important differences between the methods:

  • The consolidated amount attributed in consolidation to the non-selling shareholders was� termed 'minority interests' under the purchase method. It was reported on the balance sheet between liabilities and shareholders' equity'; and following the same reasoning allowing half-pregnant measures of consolidated assets and liabilities, was measured based on the historic costs of the subsidiary. 'Noncontrolling interests' (NCI), has replaced minority interests, and are now measured on the same basis as the 'controlling interests', and firmly categorized as part of shareholders equity.
    • Well, maybe not so firm. See my post on the FASB's recently issued Preliminary Views document entitled Financial Instruments with Characteristics of Equity, which proposes to move NCI to liabilities. In fact, one intrepid FASB member objected to the issuance of FAS 141R until the FASB could actually enunciate clear principles for distinguishing between liabilities and equity. Until then, it's just another rule that's subject to change.
  • "Goodwill" is higher under the acquisition method, because as can be seen by comparing the calculations, it now includes amounts attributable to NCI.
    • What hasn't changed, though, is that goodwill is still a euphonious sobriquet for a random number masquerading on the balance sheet as an asset measurement. (I'll write more about this in a post soon to come.) Under the purchase method, it's the difference between the purchase price and amounts for the other assets and liabilities recorded. Under the acquisition method, it's fair value of SubCo (equivalently, purchase price plus amount recognized for noncontrolling interests) minus the amounts for the other assets and liabilities recorded. SFAS 141R may describe goodwill in more dignified terms, but the way I just did is more accurate. At least I'm not as blunt as Walter Schuetze, former SEC Chief Accountant, who is fond of calling goodwill "the lump left over." I smile to myself every time I think of that.

Since only balance sheet differences are illustrated above, I have only told part of the story so far. The table below extends the illustration to the end of the first year subsequent to the acquisition of SubCo.

The foregoing illustrates that there is an additional step on the income statement. It may be hard for some people to get used to, but net income is no longer the bottom line. In fact, the bottom line doesn't change in this case, because $3 of additional depreciation expense is recorded, but it is taken out of the earnings attributed to NCI. If you are familiar with the SEC's required presentation of 'net income applicable to common stock (SAB Topic 6.B.1), you will know that the idea is not new.

Well, that's all for now. If you want to look at my spreadsheet, you can get it by clicking here. I'll have a lot more to say about goodwill and accounting for business combinations in the near future, and it won't be pretty.

Note: The original version of this post contained an error in the calculation of the control premium. Thanks to Wallace Enman of Moody's for pointing out the error, and for helping me to get it right. Thanks also to Barb Foerster of Western Union for finding another technical error that I have now corrected.


  1. Reply Julian Tao July 31, 2008

    Dear Author,
    It seems the control premium should be $23, calculated as (1000 – .7(1405))/.7 = 23
    Please kindly show me where I erred, if you are right.
    Thank you,

  2. Reply Stephen October 13, 2008

    Dear Author,
    I concur with Julian’s prior posting on July, 31.
    I think there are two ways to go about calculating the control premium for 100% of SubCo, both leading to the same result.
    1) Pro Rated Transaction Value – Fair Value = 1,000/0.7 – 1,405 = 1,429 – 1,405 = 24
    2) (Transaction Value – 70% of Fair Value) / Percentage Acquired = (1,000 – 1,405 * 0.7) / 0.7 = (1,000 – 983.5) / 0.7 = 16.5 / 0.7 = 24
    If the above is correct, then I believe the error in your posting lies in the denominator of the premium calculation (1-.07) instead of (0.7). The reason being that the numerator represents the premium placed on the 70% of SubCo relative to 70% of the Fair Value of SubCo. Therefore, the premium should represent 70% of the total premium. As such, the numerator should be divided by 0.7 to find 100% of the premium.

  3. Reply Dennis February 10, 2009

    This was a perfectly explicit and simple example and very helpful. It would seem you might be able to permenantly book the good will and FMV adjustments for the Sub’s assets directly to the Sub’s books with the offset to the Sub’s equity but I am not sure which equity account, perhaps APIC? There by simplifying the consolidation and associated eliminating entries. Is this considered an acceptible approach? Our auditor seemed to feel so.

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