Critical accounting estimates
The application of GAAP requires the company to make estimates and assumptions about future events that directly affect its reported financial condition and operating performance. The accounting estimates and assumptions discussed in this section are those that the company considers to be the most critical to its financial statements. An accounting estimate is considered critical if both (a) the nature of the estimate or assumption is material due to the levels of subjectivity and judgment involved, and (b) the impact within a reasonable range of outcomes of the estimate and assumption is material to the company’s financial condition or operating performance. Senior management has discussed the development, selection and disclosure of these estimates with the Audit Committee of the company’s Board of Directors. The company’s significant accounting policies are described in note A, “Significant Accounting Policies.”
A quantitative sensitivity analysis is provided where that information is reasonably available, can be reliably estimated and provides material information to investors. The amounts used to assess sensitivity (e.g., 1 percent, 10 percent, etc.) are included to allow users of the Annual Report to understand a general direction cause and effect of changes in the estimates and do not represent management’s predictions of variability. For all of these estimates, it should be noted that future events rarely develop exactly as forecast, and estimates require regular review and adjustment.
For defined benefit pension plans, the measurement of the company’s benefit obligation and net periodic pension cost/(income) requires the use of certain assumptions, including, among others, estimates of discount rates and expected return on plan assets. See note U, “Retirement-Related Benefits,” for a description of the company’s defined benefit pension plans.
Changes in the discount rate assumptions will impact the service cost, (gain)/loss amortization and interest cost components of the net periodic pension cost/(income) calculation (see the Discount Rate section in note U, “Retirement-Related Benefits,” for information regarding the discount rate assumptions) and the projected benefit obligation (PBO). As presented in the Discount Rate section in note U, “Retirement-Related Benefits,” the company decreased the discount rate assumption for the IBM Personal Pension Plan (PPP), a U.S.-based defined benefit plan, by 25 basis points to 5.75 percent on December 31, 2008. This change will increase pre-tax cost and expense recognized in 2009 by approximately $71 million. If the discount rate assumption for the PPP increased by 25 basis points on December 31, 2008, pre-tax cost and expense recognized in 2009 would have decreased by approximately $67 million. Changes in the discount rate assumptions will impact the PBO which, in turn, may impact the company’s funding decisions if the PBO exceeds plan assets. Each 25 basis point increase or decrease in the discount rate will cause a corresponding decrease or increase, respectively, in the PPP’s PBO of an estimated $1.2 billion based upon December 31, 2008 data. This table in note U, “Retirement-Related Benefits,” presents the PPP’s PBO and plan assets as of December 31, 2008.
The expected long-term return on plan assets is used in calculating the net periodic pension (income)/cost. The differences between the actual return on plan assets and expected long-term return on plan assets are recognized over five years in the expected return on plan assets line within net periodic pension cost/(income) and also as a component of gains/losses in accumulated gains and (losses) not affecting retained earnings, which is recognized over the service lives of the employees in the plan, provided such amounts exceed certain thresholds which are based upon the obligation or the value of plan assets, as provided by accounting standards.
To the extent the outlook for long-term returns changes such that management changes its expected long-term return on plan assets assumption, each 50 basis point increase or decrease in the expected long-term return on PPP plan assets assumption will have an estimated decrease or increase, respectively, of $251 million on the following year’s pre-tax net periodic pension cost/(income) (based upon the PPP’s plan assets at December 31, 2008 and assuming no contributions are made in 2009). As presented on note U, “Retirement-Related Benefits,” the company did not change its expected long-term return on plan assets assumption on December 31, 2008.
The company may voluntarily make contributions or be required, by law, to make contributions to its pension plans. Actual return on pension plan assets that differ from the expected long-term return on plan asset assumptions, may result in more or less future contributions than is planned by management.
Impacts of these types of changes on the company’s defined benefit pension plans in other countries worldwide will vary depending upon the status of each respective plan.
Application of the various accounting principles in GAAP related to the measurement and recognition of revenue requires the company to make judgments and estimates. Specifically, complex arrangements with nonstandard terms and conditions may require significant contract interpretation to determine the appropriate accounting, including whether the deliverables specified in a multiple element arrangement should be treated as separate units of accounting. Other significant judgments include determining whether IBM or a reseller is acting as the principal in a transaction and whether separate contracts are considered part of one arrangement.
Revenue recognition is also impacted by the company’s ability to estimate sales incentives, expected returns and allowances for uncollectible receivables. The company considers various factors, including a review of specific transactions, the credit-worthiness of the customers, historical experience and market and economic conditions when calculating these provisions and allowances. Estimates are evaluated each quarter to assess the adequacy of the estimates. If these estimates were changed by 10 percent in 2008, net income would be impacted by $90 million (excluding Global Financing receivables reserves discussed below).
Costs to Complete Service Contracts
The company enters into numerous service contracts through its GTS and GBS businesses. During the contractual period, revenue, cost and profits may be impacted by estimates of the ultimate profitability of each contract, especially contracts for which the company uses the percentage-of-completion (POC) method of accounting. If at any time these estimates indicate the POC contract will be unprofitable, the entire estimated loss for the remainder of the contract is recorded immediately in cost. The company performs ongoing profitability analyses of its services contracts in order to determine whether the latest estimates require updating. Key factors reviewed by the company to estimate the future costs to complete each contract are future labor costs, future product costs and productivity efficiencies. Contract loss provisions recorded as a component of other accrued expenses and liabilities are approximately $24 million and $41 million at December 31, 2008 and December 31, 2007, respectively.
The company is subject to income taxes in the U.S. and numerous foreign jurisdictions. Significant judgments are required in determining the consolidated provision for income taxes.
During the ordinary course of business, there are many transactions and calculations for which the ultimate tax determination is uncertain. As a result, the company recognizes tax liabilities based on estimates of whether additional taxes and interest will be due. These tax liabilities are recognized when, despite the company’s belief that its tax return positions are supportable, the company believes that certain positions may not be fully sustained upon review by tax authorities. The company believes that its accruals for tax liabilities are adequate for all open audit years based on its assessment of many factors including past experience and interpretations of tax law. This assessment relies on estimates and assumptions and may involve a series of complex judgments about future events. To the extent that the final tax outcome of these matters is different than the amounts recorded, such differences will impact income tax expense in the period in which such determination is made.
Significant judgment is also required in determining any valuation allowance recorded against deferred tax assets. In assessing the need for a valuation allowance, management considers all available evidence for each jurisdiction including past operating results, estimates of future taxable income and the feasibility of ongoing tax planning strategies. In the event that the company changes its determination as to the amount of deferred tax assets that can be realized, the company will adjust its valuation allowance with a corresponding impact to income tax expense in the period in which such determination is made.
To the extent that the provision for income taxes increases/decreases by 1 percent of income from continuing operations before income taxes, consolidated income from continuing operations would have decreased/improved by $167 million in 2008.
Valuation of Assets and Reporting Units
The application of business combination and impairment accounting requires the use of significant estimates and assumptions. The purchase method of accounting for business combinations requires the company to estimate the fair value of assets acquired and liabilities assumed to properly allocate purchase price consideration between assets that are depreciated and amortized from goodwill. Impairment testing for assets, other than goodwill, requires the allocation of cash flows to those assets or group of assets and if required, an estimate of fair value for the assets or group of assets. The company’s estimates are based upon assumptions believed to be reasonable, but which are inherently uncertain and unpredictable. These valuations require the use of management’s assumptions, which would not reflect unanticipated events and circumstances that may occur.
Valuation of Goodwill
The company reviews goodwill for impairment annually and whenever events or changes in circumstances indicate the carrying value of goodwill may not be recoverable in accordance with SFAS No. 142, “Goodwill and Other Intangible Assets.” The provisions of SFAS No. 142 require that the company perform a two-step impairment test. In the first step, the company compares the fair value of each reporting unit to its carrying value. The company determines the fair value of its reporting units based on the income approach. Under the income approach, the company calculates the fair value of a reporting unit based on the present value of estimated future cash flows. If the fair value of the reporting unit exceeds the carrying value of the net assets assigned to that unit, goodwill is not impaired. If the carrying value of the net assets assigned to the reporting unit exceeds the fair value of the reporting unit, then the second step of the impairment test is performed in order to determine the implied fair value of the reporting unit’s goodwill. If the carrying value of a reporting unit’s goodwill exceeds its implied fair value, then the company records an impairment loss equal to the difference.
Determining the fair value of a reporting unit is judgmental in nature and involves the use of significant estimates and assumptions. These estimates and assumptions include revenue growth rates and operating margins used to calculate projected future cash flows, discount rates and future economic and market conditions. The company’s estimates are based upon assumptions believed to be reasonable, but which are inherently uncertain and unpredictable. These valuations require the use of management’s assumptions, which would not reflect unanticipated events and circumstances that may occur.
The company’s annual goodwill impairment analysis, which the company performed during the fourth quarter of 2008, did not result in an impairment charge. The excess of fair value over carrying value for each of the company’s reporting units as of September 30, 2008, the annual testing date, ranged from approximately $2.0 billion to approximately $36.0 billion. In order to evaluate the sensitivity of the fair value calculations on the goodwill impairment test, the company applied a hypothetical 10 percent decrease to the fair values of each reporting unit. This hypothetical 10 percent decrease would result in excess fair value over carrying value ranging from approximately $1.8 billion to approximately $31.3 billion for each of the company’s reporting units.
The company is currently involved in various claims and legal proceedings. Quarterly, the company reviews the status of each significant matter and assesses its potential financial exposure. If the potential loss from any claim or legal proceeding is considered probable and the amount can be reasonably estimated, the company accrues a liability for the estimated loss. Significant judgment is required in both the determination of probability and the determination as to whether an exposure is reasonably estimable. Because of uncertainties related to these matters, accruals are based only on the best information available at the time. As additional information becomes available, the company reassesses the potential liability related to its pending claims and litigation and may revise its estimates. These revisions in the estimates of the potential liabilities could have a material impact on the company’s results of operations and financial position.
Financing Receivables Reserves
The Global Financing business reviews its financing receivables portfolio at least quarterly in order to assess collectibility. A description of the methods used by management to estimate the amount of uncollectible receivables is included in note A, “Significant accounting policies.” Factors that could result in actual receivable losses that are materially different from the estimated reserve include sharp changes in the economy, or a significant change in the economic health of a particular industry segment that represents a concentration in Global Financing’s receivables portfolio.
To the extent that actual collectibility differs from management’s estimates currently provided for by 10 percent, Global Financing’s segment pre-tax income and the company’s consolidated income from continuing operations before income taxes would be higher or lower by an estimated $53 million (using 2008 data), depending upon whether the actual collectibility was better or worse, respectively, than the estimates.
Residual value represents the estimated fair value of equipment under lease as of the end of the lease. Residual value estimates impact the determination of whether a lease is classified as operating or capital. Global Financing estimates the future fair value of leased equipment by using historical models, analyzing the current market for new and used equipment and obtaining forward-looking product information such as marketing plans and technological innovations. Residual value estimates are periodically reviewed and “other than temporary” declines in estimated future residual values are recognized upon identification. Anticipated increases in future residual values are not recognized until the equipment is remarketed. Factors that could cause actual results to materially differ from the estimates include significant changes in the used-equipment market brought on by unforeseen changes in technology innovations and any resulting changes in the useful lives of used equipment.
To the extent that actual residual value recovery is lower than management’s estimates by 10 percent, Global Financing’s segment pre-tax income and the company’s consolidated income from continuing operations before income taxes would be lower by an estimated $65 million (using 2008 data). If the actual residual value recovery is higher than management’s estimates, the increase in after-tax income will be realized at the end of lease when the equipment is remarketed.