Goodwill and Markets

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Date Submitted: 06/02/2010 12:56 PM

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As markets fall, goodwill hard to maintain

David Parkinson. The Globe and Mail. Toronto, Ont: Mar 17, 2009. Pg B15

By late 2008, David Adams could tell with one glance at his books that the market had handed him a problem.

The chief financial officer at Groupe Aeroplan Inc. was carrying almost $3-billion in goodwill on the flight-reward company's balance sheet, most of it residue from its 2005 spinoff from ACE Aviation Holdings Inc. But the entire market capitalization of Aeroplan's stock, which had been close to $5-billion in early January, had tumbled to $1.3-billion by late November. According to the market, the entire company was worth less than half of the value of its goodwill alone.

Accounting rules and regulatory directives were crystal clear: The discrepancy between the market value and the goodwill was a flashing red warning signal that the goodwill was probably no longer worth what Aeroplan's books said it was. The company was compelled to run an impairment test. The result: a $1.16-billion writedown against earnings, which the company reported last month.

"It was actually pretty simple," Mr. Adams said. "The securities regulators are driving the bus on this."

Aeroplan is hardly alone: Plunging asset values, slumping earnings prospects, rising borrowing costs and a key 2002 accounting change have left an unprecedented amount of increasingly hard-to-justify goodwill on corporate balance sheets, prompting Canadian and U.S. regulators to remind companies to take a hard look at their goodwill. The result has been a wave of big-money writedowns that might still be in its early stages.

A recent report from Desjardins Securities showed that companies on the S & P/TSX composite index had a combined $168-billion of goodwill on their balance sheets at the end of the third quarter. Since then, TSX companies have announced at least $13-billion in goodwill writedowns, including charges of more than $1-billion each at Aeroplan, Nortel Networks Corp., CanWest...