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Goodwill Impairment on the Rise at U.S. Companies

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Goodwill Impairment on the Rise at U.S. Companies

Record degree of goodwill impairment happened in spite of a robust year for M&A activity

Wednesday, November 16, 2016
By Michael Cohn, Accounting Today

Public companies in the U.S. recorded $57 billion in goodwill impairment last year, more than double the amount of impairment they recorded the previous year, according to a new study.

The study, by the valuation and corporate finance advisor Duff & Phelps, found this record degree of goodwill impairment since the height of the financial crisis happened in spite of a robust year for M&A activity. The deal value increased by two-thirds in 2015 compared to 2014, with U.S. companies adding $458 billion of goodwill to their balance sheets last year.

However, despite the overall increase in the aggregate amount of goodwill impairments, the actual number of impairment events increased only slightly, from 341 in 2014 to 350 in 2015. Thus, the average amount of goodwill impairment per event more than doubled to $163 million in 2015. Nevertheless, the top three goodwill impairment events last year continued to account for 20 percent of the aggregate goodwill impairment amount, according to the study.

For the second consecutive year, energy continued to be the hardest hit industry, taking goodwill impairment of $18.2 billion in 2015, compared to $5.8 billion in 2014. Energy accounted for almost one-third of the aggregate goodwill impairment last year, with 56 percent of energy companies that carry goodwill on their balance sheets recording an impairment.

Another industry seeing a significant impact last year was information technology, with two of the three overall largest impairments taking place in the IT industry. Total goodwill impairment more than tripled to $12.9 billion for companies in the IT industry compared to 2014.

“Overall strength in the job market and consumer spending contributed to an active M&A environment and a marked increase in recorded goodwill,” said Duff & Phelps managing director Greg Franceschi, a co-chairman of the AICPA Goodwill Impairment Task Force, in a statement. “At the same time, ongoing weakness in energy prices and a few significant impairment events in the tech sector contributed to $57 billion of impairments in 2015—a twofold increase over the prior year. Looking ahead, goodwill resulting from acquisitions will continue to be an important metric to monitor.”

Other industries that saw steep increases last year in goodwill impairment were consumer discretionary and industrials, more than doubling their impairment levels in 2014.  Some industries, however, such as financials and consumer staples, reported impairment declines of 55 percent and 29 percent, respectively.

The Financial Accounting Standards Board has been making some changes to simplify goodwill impairment testing in recent years. A record percentage of 59 percent of the public companies responding to the survey adopted the optional qualitative goodwill impairment test (also known as “Step 0”) in 2015, while two-thirds of the survey respondents overall believe that Step 0 meets its stated objective of reducing costs.

FASB has also proposed to simplify the current goodwill impairment test model by eliminating “Step 2,” and a significant set of survey respondents (82 percent) said they were in favor of the proposed change.
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