What is Sale Leaseback Accounting?

Sale Leaseback Accounting

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Sale Leaseback Accounting

Sale leaseback accounting refers to the method by which companies account for transactions where an asset, typically real estate or equipment, is sold to another party and then immediately leased back by the seller. These transactions are undertaken for various reasons, including raising capital, improving financial ratios, or tax benefits.

The accounting treatment of a sale leaseback depends largely on whether the lease is classified as a finance lease (previously known as capital lease) or an operating lease, as well as other criteria that indicate a true sale has taken place.

Here’s how it generally works:

  • Recognition of the Sale: The seller (lessee) removes the asset from its balance sheet and recognizes any gain or loss from the sale of the asset. The amount of gain or loss is typically the difference between the asset’s carrying amount (book value) and the sale price.
  • Lease Classification:
    • Operating Lease: If the leaseback is classified as an operating lease, the seller (lessee) does not recognize the entire gain or loss immediately. Instead, any profit related to the leaseback is deferred and amortized over the lease term. The lessee also recognizes lease expenses on a straight-line basis over the lease term.
    • Finance Lease: If the leaseback is classified as a finance lease, the asset (now under a lease) and a corresponding liability are recognized on the lessee’s balance sheet. The lessee also recognizes interest expense on the lease liability and depreciation expense on the right-of-use asset.
  • Lease Payments: Regardless of lease type, the lessee records the lease payments. For operating leases, the lease payments are generally recognized as lease expense. For finance leases, part of each payment is allocated to interest expense and part to reduce the lease liability.

Example of Sale Leaseback Accounting

Let’s explore a hypothetical example to understand sale leaseback accounting in a practical scenario.


TechCorp, a technology company, owns its headquarters, a modern office building that has a carrying amount (book value) of $15 million on its balance sheet. Due to a need for immediate liquidity to fund a new project, TechCorp decides to enter into a sale leaseback transaction with PropInvest, a real estate investment firm.

Transaction Details:

  • TechCorp sells the building to PropInvest for $20 million.
  • Simultaneously, TechCorp agrees to lease the building back from PropInvest for 10 years, with annual lease payments of $2 million.

Accounting Treatment:

  • Recognition of the Sale:
    • TechCorp would remove the building from its assets on the balance sheet.
    • TechCorp would recognize a gain of $5 million ($20 million sale price – $15 million book value).
  • Classification of the Lease:
    • Let’s assume that after evaluation, the lease is classified as an operating lease by TechCorp.
  • Operating Lease Treatment:
    • TechCorp would not immediately recognize the full $5 million gain. Instead, a portion of this gain that corresponds to the fair value of the leaseback would be deferred.
    • Let’s assume the present value of the lease payments ($2 million x 10 years) is $16 million. The excess of the sale price over this value is $4 million ($20 million – $16 million). This $4 million would be recognized immediately as a gain.
    • The remaining $1 million gain would be deferred and recognized over the 10-year lease term, effectively reducing the lease expense TechCorp would recognize each year.
    • Every year, TechCorp would recognize a lease expense of $2 million (the lease payment), minus a portion of the deferred gain.
  • Financial Statement Impact:
    • Balance Sheet: The building is no longer an asset for TechCorp. Instead, they might recognize a lease asset and corresponding liability (depending on the exact accounting framework).
    • Income Statement: Each year, TechCorp would record the net lease expense (after considering the portion of deferred gain) and the portion of the immediately recognized gain, if it wasn’t recognized all at once in the year of the sale.

This example provides a simplified view of sale leaseback accounting. In reality, factors like the present value of lease payments, implicit interest rates, and specific terms of the lease can influence the accounting treatment. As always, companies should consult with accounting professionals to ensure they’re adhering to the appropriate accounting standards.

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