WASHINGTON — The Governmental Accounting Standards Board published an updated guide for rating agencies, institutional investors and other analysts Thursday in an effort to help them navigate state and local governmental financial statements.
The 434-page document, “An Analysts’ Guide to Governmental Financial Statements, 2nd Edition,” includes 125 annotated examples of financial statements, note disclosures and supporting schedules, as well as full sets of financial statements for a state government, municipality, school district and public university.
The guide is intended to familiarize analysts with the basic parts of a state or local government’s annual financial report and help them decipher the purpose and meaning of the information.
It has been updated to include new reporting standards adopted by GASB since it was originally issued in 2001. The guide does not, however, include the new pension accounting and reporting standards approved in June. Those new standards will require governments to disclose a “net pension liability” figure for the first time on their balance sheets in addition to funding projections. They don’t take full effect until 2015.
“Until the new standards actually become effective, we won’t make any revisions to the guides to reflect them,” said John Pappas, GASB’s senior manager of media relations.
The new topics in the 2012 guide include retiree health insurance, fund balance, derivative instruments, deposit and investment risk disclosures and a statistical section.
The guide is broken into 14 sections and includes a chapter on the basic tools of analyzing the finances of state and local governments, with a focus on risk, efficiency, retirement benefits, service capacity and revenue debt analysis.
The first section provides an in-depth overview of an annual financial report, including definitions and items typically found in such a report.
The last section discusses how to draw meaning from financial statement data and turn it into an analysis that utilizes financial ratios. It warns that when presented with ratio information, an analyst should be sure to ask how it was calculated.
“Analysts tend to be frequent users of governmental financial statements and they rely heavily on the reported financial information for decision-making or assessing accountability,” GASB chairman Robert Attmore said in a release. “This comprehensive guide will help them better understand the information that can be found in those financial statements and will show how basic analytical techniques can be applied to assess financial position, liquidity, long-term solvency, fiscal capacity and risk exposure.”