Leases, Debt and Value
57 Pages Posted: 17 Apr 2009
Date Written: April 14, 2009
When analyzing or the value of a firm, there are three basic questions that we need to address: How much is the firm generating as earnings? How much capital has been invested in its existing investments? How much has the firm borrowed? In answering these questions, we depend upon accounting assessments of earnings, book capital and debt. We assume that the reported operating income is prior to any financing expenses and that all debt utilized by the firm is treated as such on the balance sheet. While this assumption, for the most part, is well founded, there is a significant exception. When a firm leases an asset, the accounting treatment of the expense depends upon whether it is categorized as an operating or a capital lease. Operating lease payments are treated as part of operating expenses, but we will argue that they are really financing expenses. Consequently, the stated operating income, capital, profitability and cash flow measures for firms with operating leases have to be adjusted when operating lease expenses get categorized as financing expenses. This can have far reaching implications for profitability, financial leverage and assessed value at firms.
Keywords: operating leases, financial leverage, debt
JEL Classification: G12, G29, G30, G32, A20
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