The Case of the Missing Post-Acquisition Income
Finding the Culprits
Whatever happened to the expected post-acquisition income? The author identifies the potential culprits.
One of my favorite games as a kid was the murder-mystery classic Clue. How many of you remember trying to deduce the culprit, the murder weapon and the room in which the attack took place?
â€śI think it was Colonel Mustard in the kitchen with the candlestick.â€ť
â€śI think it was Mrs. Peacock in the hall with the knife.â€ť
â€śI think it was Mrs. White in the billiard room with the lead pipe.â€ť
Clue was a great â€śwhodunitâ€ť game in which players had to use their sleuthing skills to piece clues together to solve a mystery. Who knew that those same sleuthing skills would be necessary in piecing together the mystery of why an acquired companyâ€™s post-acquisition income is often lower than its historical levels. While â€śThe Case of the Missing Post-Acquisition Incomeâ€ť is not likely to go on to be a best-seller for Hasbro, there are some important lessons for investors and users of financial statements to learn from this financial mystery.
In many cases, when reported income immediately declines after an acquisition, integration costs and customer attrition are the primary causes. Letâ€™s assume that these factors are not an issue for the moment, though. Even if an acquired company operates at the same exact level of activity pre- and post-acquisition, the reported income in those two periods can differ significantly as a result of two lesser-known culprits: deferred revenue and inventory.
Deferred revenue is an accounting term for cash that is received as a prepayment for a product or serviceâ€”the related revenue is not actually recognized until the goods are shipped or the services are rendered. In an acquisition, deferred revenue typically is adjusted down from its originally recorded amount to its â€śfair value,â€ť which is based on the cost to deliver the related product or service (not the larger amount of cash collected prior to the related revenue being recognized, which may include a significant gross profit component not reflected in the â€śfair valueâ€ť of the related liability).
Because of the reduction in the deferred revenue balance to â€śfair value,â€ť there is a portion of revenue (for which cash has been received) that never gets recorded on the companyâ€™s pre- or post-transaction books. Poof! That revenue basically disappears and never gets recognized. For companies that receive meaningful prepayments, this can have a material impact on the amount of revenue that is recorded post-acquisition when the deferred revenue is reversed and recognized as revenue. For every dollar that deferred revenue is reduced when it is adjusted to â€śfair valueâ€ť on the opening balance sheet of the acquired company, that equals one dollar of revenue and income that will never be reported or realized.
Deferred revenue is not the only sneaky perpetrator that can hamper post-acquisition earnings; inventory also impacts an acquired companyâ€™s financials. Inventory typically is carried on a companyâ€™s balance sheet at cost. In an acquisition, however, inventory is written up to â€śfair value,â€ť which represents the selling price of the inventory less any sales/completion costs (and an appropriate profit on those costs). This is a unique rule in GAAP that generally only comes in to play when an acquisition occurs, which triggers fair value accounting (instead of historical cost accounting) for recording the acquired inventory balance.
This means that even though the acquired inventory items had the same cost as those sold just before the transaction closed, the profit on post-transaction sales is artificially deflated due to the write-up in inventory value on the acquired companyâ€™s opening balance sheet. This write-up in inventory value reduces the companyâ€™s income and profitability during the period that the acquired inventory is sold. Again, for every dollar that inventory is increased when it is adjusted to â€śfair valueâ€ť on the opening balance sheet of the acquired company, it equates to one dollar of income that will never be reported or realized.
Between the reduction in revenue (from deferred revenue) and decrease in gross profit (from inventory), an acquired companyâ€™s reported financial performance can look significantly worse during its first post-acquisition year than its underlying activity would indicate. Due to the unique accounting provisions related to deferred revenue and inventory that are triggered when an acquisition occurs, a company operating at the exact same level both pre- and post-acquisition could have materially lower profitability levels for the first year or two after an acquisition while the impact of the deferred revenue write-down and inventory step-up is felt.
Therefore, it is important that both management and the users of financial statements grab their sleuthing hats and magnifying glasses, dig into the clues in the financial statement footnotes and keep these factors in mind when setting loan covenants and analyzing a companyâ€™s immediate post-acquisition performance because that company may have been a victim of â€śThe Case of the Missing Post-Acquisition Income.â€ť
Sean Saari, CPA, ABV, CVA, MBA, is a partner at Skoda Minotti and manages the firmâ€™s Valuation and Litigation Advisory Services group. He assists a diverse client base in valuations for litigated matters, domestic disputes, shareholder disputes, estate and gift tax planning, financial reporting, and strategic planning. In addition to being a CPA, Mr. Saari is Accredited in Business Valuation (ABV) and is a Certified Valuation Analyst (CVA).
Mr. Saari can be contacted at (440) 449-6800 or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.