ASB issues capital bond proposals

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THE Accounting Standards Board yesterday switched its attention from the profit and loss account to the balance sheet when it issued proposals that would force companies to treat convertible capital bonds and similar instruments as debt.

The rules, outlined in an exposure draft on which the ASB is inviting comments, would mean that companies will be forced to show substantially higher gearing - borrowings as a proportion of net assets - in annual accounts. They may also have to raise the charge against profits for financing the instruments to take account of any premium they may have to pay when the bonds are renewed.

Convertible capital bonds generally carry a fixed interest rate, like debt, but can be converted into shares in the issuing company at some future date. They became popular in the 1980s as accounting rules allowed them to be classified as shares but the interest, unlike dividends, was tax-deductible.

The ASB said the plans will apply retrospectively, so bonds in issue will be caught. That means some companies may have to renegotiate banking covenants.

Commentary, page 27