Income trusts get distributable cash standard

Canada’s CAs have announced guidance for a key metric of income trusts, that of distributable cash.

The term ‘distributable cash’ generally refers to the cash that an income trust could potentially distribute to unit holders. Investors use this information when assessing the entity’s ability to fund future distributions and to help value their investments.

But the problem with the measure is that investors had no way of knowing where the cash had come from: general operating activities, or selling off productive assets and related future capacity. There was no way to compare across trusts since they all defined the term differently, or even to compare the same trust year over year. The CICA recommendations seek to remedy this:

The CICA guidance recommends that income trusts report a new measure called “Standardized Distributable Cash” to improve consistency of reporting and comparability between entities. Together with other disclosures recommended in the framework, the new measure gives the industry a common methodology for providing investors with information.

Standardized Distributable Cash is defined as cash from operations, after adjusting for capital expenditures, restrictions on distributions due to debt covenants, and minority interests.

The recommendations are not without criticism, however.

Independent investor advocate Diane Urquhart noted that the new CICA measure of distributable cash is not an addition to generally accepted accounting principles and will appear only as part of management’s discussion and analysis. […] “It’s ugly,” declared Al Rosen of forensic accountants Rosen and Associates. “When you needed this – and in a tougher form – would have been at least five years ago.”

I believe those are the biggest criticisms of it: the “standard” isn’t part of GAAP officially, but merely guidance to help trusts provide investors with higher quality information, and the recommendations are a little late in coming.

Better something than nothing, and better late than never.