The FASB Files, Part II: Compliance Challenges and Valuable Insights

April 11, 2024

As we noted last week, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) has made an important contribution to the cause of corporate transparency and accountability with its new Accounting Standards Update No. 2021-10 (Topic 832). The update now requires publicly traded companies to report when they receive government assistance and how that assistance is reflected in their annual financial statements filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

While FASB stresses the update’s relevance to investors and market analysts, the general public has a clear interest in this information as well. “Government assistance” means our tax dollars, after all.

Unfortunately, reporting so far has been highly inconsistent.

Our preliminary survey looked at the annual SEC filings of 28 large companies across seven different industry sectors. Of those, 12 contained some form of disclosure sufficient to comply with the new rule’s minimum requirements. Another four disclosed government assistance but failed to provide specific amounts debited or credited against line items on their financial statements.

Topic 832 does call for companies to provide specific assistance amounts but does not require them to disaggregate those amounts by government entity or geography. As a result, these 16 companies provide widely varying levels of detail on the source of assistance and its intended use.

The remaining 12 companies did not disclose any government assistance in the last two years, including Alphabet (Google), Meta (Facebook), Microsoft, and Apple.

Intel, by contrast, boasted one of the most comprehensive notes we reviewed, distinguishing between capital- and operating-related assistance and disaggregating their $2.2 billion in recognized capital incentives by source.

Source: Intel Corporation, 2023 10-K Filing

Inconsistency in reporting, particularly across industries, may be in part a consequence of FASB’s decision to narrow Topic 832 to focus almost exclusively on cash grants, forgivable loans, and asset transfers.

The update does not cover non-discretionary subsidy programs made available to any company that meets predefined conditions, like a sales tax exemption on special equipment. Types of assistance that are not recognized directly in a company’s financial statements, a loan guarantee say, are likewise excluded on the grounds that estimating their value would be burdensome and impractical.

We know that for big tech companies, sales and property tax breaks on their massive and fast-proliferating data centers are some of the most lucrative subsidies these companies receive. Semiconductor manufacturers, meanwhile, are reaping tens of billions of dollars in grants and refundable investment tax credits through the federal CHIPS Act and related state programs.

FASB’s Topic 740 already covers income tax credits, though some surveyed companies, like Intel, have opted to treat refundable tax credits as government assistance.

Despite its shortcomings, Topic 832 is nevertheless a powerful peak under the hood of subsidized companies. Even given its narrow definition, we now know government assistance saved Intel $428 million on its operating costs last year, roughly a quarter of its $1.7 billion reported annual profit. This represented the second largest boost to a surveyed company’s bottom line after the Walt Disney Company, which recognized $800 million in amortized production tax credits in FY 2023.

Also notable is Intel’s inclusion of grants and refundable tax credits the company received for investments undertaken in Ireland. We’ll have more to say soon on Topic 832’s potential to broaden our perspective on corporate subsidies beyond the borders of the United States.