ETE » Topics » Critical Accounting Policies and Estimates

This excerpt taken from the ETE 10-K filed Oct 30, 2007.

Critical Accounting Policies and Estimates

The selection and application of accounting policies is an important process that has developed as our business activities have evolved and as the accounting rules have developed. Accounting rules generally do not involve a selection among alternatives, but involve an implementation and interpretation of existing rules, and the use of judgment applied to the specific set of circumstances existing in our business. We make every effort to properly comply with all applicable rules on or before their adoption, and we believe the proper implementation and consistent application of the accounting rules are critical. Our critical accounting policies are discussed below. For further details on our accounting policies and a discussion of new accounting pronouncements, see Note 3 to our consolidated financial statements.

Use of Estimates. The preparation of financial statements in conformity with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America requires management to establish accounting policies and make estimates and assumptions that affect reported amounts of assets and liabilities and accruals for and disclosures of contingent assets and liabilities at the date of the financial statements and the reported amounts of revenues and expenses during the reporting period. As is normal in the natural gas industry, our most current month’s financial results for our midstream and transportation and storage segments are estimated using volume estimates and market prices. Variances in these estimates, including variances in volume estimates, are inherent in our business. Actual results could differ from our estimates if the underlying assumptions prove to be incorrect, and such differences could be material.

Revenue Recognition. Revenues for sales of natural gas, NGLs including propane, and propane appliances, parts, and fittings are recognized at the later of the time of delivery of the product to the customer or the time of sale or installation.

 

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Index to Financial Statements

Revenue from service labor, transportation, treating, compression, and gas processing, is recognized upon completion of the service. Transportation capacity payments are recognized when earned in the period the capacity is made available. Tank rent is recognized ratably over the period it is earned.

Results from the midstream segment are determined primarily by the volumes of natural gas gathered, compressed, treated, processed, purchased and sold through our pipeline and gathering systems and the level of natural gas and NGL prices. We generate midstream revenues and gross margins principally under fee-based arrangements or other arrangements. Under fee-based arrangements, we receive a fee for natural gas gathering, compressing, treating or processing services. The revenue earned from these arrangements is directly related to the volume of natural gas that flows through our systems and is not directly dependent on commodity prices.

We also utilize other types of arrangements in our midstream segment, including (i) discount-to-index price arrangements, which involve purchases of natural gas at either (1) a percentage discount to a specified index price, (2) a specified index price less a fixed amount, or (3) a percentage discount to a specified index price less an additional fixed amount, (ii) percentage-of-proceeds arrangements under which we gather and processes natural gas on behalf of producers, selling the resulting residue gas and NGL volumes at market prices and remitting to producers an agreed upon percentage of the proceeds based on an index price, and (iii) keep-whole arrangements where we gather natural gas from the producer, processes the natural gas and sells the resulting NGLs to third parties at market prices. In many cases, we provide services under contracts that contain a combination of more than one of the arrangements described above. The terms of our contracts vary based on gas quality conditions, the competitive environment at the time the contracts are signed and customer requirements. Our contract mix may change as a result of changes in producer preferences, expansion in regions where some types of contracts are more common and other market factors.

Our intrastate transportation and storage segment and interstate transportation segment results are determined primarily by the amount of capacity customers reserve as well as the actual volume of natural gas that flows through the transportation pipelines. Under transportation contracts, our customers are charged (i) a demand fee, which is a fixed fee for the reservation of an agreed amount of capacity on the transportation pipeline for a specified period of time and which obligates the customer to pay us even if the customer does not transport natural gas on the respective pipeline, (ii) a transportation fee, which is based on the actual throughput of natural gas by the customer, (iii) a fuel retention based on a percentage of gas transported on the pipeline, or (iv) a combination of the three, generally payable monthly. The intrastate transportation and storage segment also generates its revenues and margin from the sale and marketing of natural gas to electric utilities, independent power plants, local distribution companies, industrial end-users, and other marketing companies on the HPL System.

Transwestern is subject to FERC regulations. As a result, FERC may require the refund of revenues collected during the pendency of a rate proceeding in a final order. Transwestern establishes reserves for these potential refunds, as appropriate. No such reserves were required at August 31, 2007.

We account for our trading activities under the provisions of EITF Issue No. 02-3, “Accounting for Contracts Involved in Energy Trading and Risk Management Activities” (“EITF 02-3”), which requires revenue and costs related to energy trading contracts to be presented on a net basis in the income statement.

Regulatory Assets and Liabilities. Transwestern is subject to regulation by certain state and federal authorities, is part of our interstate transportation segment and has accounting policies that conform to Statement of Financial Accounting Standards No. 71 (As Amended), Accounting for the Effects of Certain Types of Regulation (“SFAS 71”), which is in accordance with the accounting requirements and ratemaking practices of the regulatory authorities. The application of these accounting policies allows us to defer expenses and revenues on the balance sheet as regulatory assets and liabilities when it is probable that those expenses and revenues will be allowed in the ratemaking process in a period different from the period in which they would have been reflected in the consolidated statement of operations by an unregulated company. These deferred assets and liabilities will be reported in results of operations in the period in which the same amounts are included in rates and recovered from or refunded to customers. Management’s assessment of the probability of recovery or pass through of regulatory assets and liabilities will require judgment and interpretation of laws and regulatory commission orders. If, for any reason, we cease to meet the criteria for application of regulatory accounting treatment for all or part of our operations, the regulatory assets and liabilities related to those portions ceasing to meet such criteria would be eliminated from the consolidated balance sheet for the period in which the discontinuance of regulatory accounting treatment occurs.

 

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Index to Financial Statements

Fair Value of Derivative Commodity Contracts. We utilize various exchange-traded and over-the-counter commodity financial instrument contracts to limit our exposure to margin fluctuations in natural gas, NGL and propane prices and in our trading activities. These contracts consist primarily of commodity forwards, futures, swaps, options and certain basis contracts as cash flow hedging instruments. Certain contracts are not accounted for as hedges and, in accordance with SFAS No. 133 “Accounting for Derivative Instruments and Hedging Activities” (“SFAS 133”), the gains and losses resulting from changes in the fair value of these contracts are recorded on a current basis on the statement of operations. In our retail propane business, we classify all gains and losses from these derivative contracts entered into for risk management purposes as liquids marketing revenue in the consolidated statement of operations. The gains and losses on the natural gas derivative contracts that are entered into for trading purposes are recognized in the midstream and transportation and storage revenue on a net basis in the consolidated statement of operations. The non-trading gains and losses for natural gas contracts are recorded as cost of products sold in the consolidated statement of operations. On our contracts that are designated as cash flow hedges in accordance with SFAS No. 133, the effective portion of the hedged gain or loss is initially reported as a component of other comprehensive income and is subsequently reclassified into earnings when the physical transaction settles. The ineffective portion of the gain or loss is reported in earnings immediately. We utilize published settlement prices for exchange-traded contracts, quotes provided by brokers, and estimates of market prices based on daily contract activity to estimate the fair value of these contracts. We also use the Black-Scholes valuation model to estimate the value of certain options. Changes in the methods used to determine the fair value of these contracts could have a material effect on our results of operations. We do not anticipate future changes in the methods used to determine the fair value of these derivative contracts. See Item 7A, Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures about Market Risk, for further discussion regarding our derivative activities.

Impairment of Long-Lived Assets and Goodwill. Long-lived assets are required to be tested for recoverability whenever events or changes in circumstances indicate that the carrying amount of the asset may not be recoverable. Goodwill and intangibles with infinite lives must be tested for impairment annually or more frequently if events or changes in circumstances indicate that the related asset might be impaired. An impairment loss should be recognized only if the carrying amount of the asset/goodwill is not recoverable and exceeds its fair value.

In order to test for recoverability, we must make estimates of projected cash flows related to the asset which include, but are not limited to, assumptions about the use or disposition of the asset, estimated remaining life of the asset, and future expenditures necessary to maintain the asset’s existing service potential. In order to determine fair value, we make certain estimates and assumptions, including, among other things, changes in general economic conditions in regions in which our markets are located, the availability and prices of natural gas and propane supply, our ability to negotiate favorable sales agreements, the risks that natural gas exploration and production activities will not occur or be successful, our dependence on certain significant customers and producers of natural gas, and competition from other midstream companies, including major energy producers. Due to the subjectivity of the assumptions used to test for recoverability and to determine fair value, significant impairment charges could result in the future, thus affecting our future reported net income.

Property, Plant, and Equipment. Maintenance capital expenditures are capital expenditures made to replace partially or fully depreciated assets in order to maintain the existing operating capacity of our assets and to extend their useful lives. Maintenance capital expenditures also include capital expenditures made to connect additional wells to our systems in order to maintain or increase throughput on our existing assets. Growth or expansion capital expenditures are capital expenditures made to expand the existing operating capacity of our assets, whether through construction or acquisition. We treat repair and maintenance expenditures that do not extend the useful life of existing assets as operating expenses as we incur them. Upon disposition or retirement of pipeline components or gas plant components, any gain or loss is recorded to accumulated depreciation. When entire pipeline systems, gas plants or other property and equipment are retired or sold, any gain or loss is included in operations. Depreciation of property, plant and equipment is provided using the straight-line method based on their estimated useful life ranging from 3 to 80 years. Changes in the estimated useful lives of the assets could have a material effect on our results of operation. We do not anticipate future changes in the estimated useful live of our property, plant, and equipment.

Amortization of Intangible Assets. For those intangible assets that do not have indefinite lives, we calculate amortization using the straight-line method over periods ranging from 2 to 15 years. We use amortization methods and determine asset values based on management’s best estimate using reasonable and supportable assumptions and projections. Changes in the amortization methods, asset values or estimated lives could have a material effect on our results of operations. We do not anticipate future changes in the estimated useful lives of our intangible assets.

 

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Index to Financial Statements

Asset Retirement Obligation. An entity is required to recognize the fair value of a liability for an asset retirement obligation in the period in which it is incurred if a reasonable estimate of fair value can be made. If a reasonable estimate cannot be made in the period the asset retirement obligation is incurred, the liability should be recognized when a reasonable estimate of fair value can be made.

In order to determine fair value, management must make certain estimates and assumptions including, among other things, projected cash flows, a credit-adjusted risk-free rate, and an assessment of market conditions that could significantly impact the estimated fair value of the asset retirement obligation. These estimates and assumptions are very subjective. We have determined that we are obligated by contractual or regulatory requirements to remove assets or perform other remediation upon retirement of certain assets. However, the fair value of our asset retirement obligation cannot currently be reasonably estimated because the settlement dates are indeterminate. We will record an asset retirement obligation in the periods in which it can reasonably determine the settlement dates.

Legal Matters. We are subject to litigation and regulatory proceedings as a result of our business operations and transactions. We utilize both internal and external counsel in evaluating our potential exposure to adverse outcomes from claims, orders, judgments or settlements. To the extent that actual outcomes differ from our estimates, or additional facts and circumstances cause us to revise our estimates, our earnings will be affected. We expense legal costs as incurred, and all recorded legal liabilities are revised as required as better information becomes available to us. The factors we consider when recording an accrual for contingencies include, among others: (i) the opinions and views of our legal counsel; (ii) our previous experience; and (iii) the decision of our management as to how we intend to respond to the complaints.

For more information on our litigation and contingencies, see Note 10 to our consolidated financial statements included in Item 8 in this report.

This excerpt taken from the ETE 10-K filed Nov 29, 2006.

Critical Accounting Policies and Estimates

The selection and application of accounting policies is an important process that has developed as our business activities have evolved and as the accounting rules have developed. Accounting rules generally do not involve a selection among alternatives, but involve an implementation and interpretation of existing rules, and the use of judgment applied to the specific set of circumstances existing in our business. We make every effort to properly comply with all applicable rules on or before their adoption, and we believe the proper implementation and consistent application of the accounting rules are critical. Our critical accounting policies are discussed below. For further details on our accounting policies and a discussion of new accounting pronouncements, see Note 3 – “Significant Accounting Policies and Balance Sheet Detail” to our consolidated financial statements in this report.

 

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Use of Estimates. The preparation of financial statements in conformity with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America requires management to establish accounting policies and make estimates and assumptions that affect reported amounts of assets and liabilities and disclosures of contingent assets and liabilities at the date of the financial statements and the reported amounts of revenues and expenses during the reporting period. As is normal in the natural gas industry, our most current month’s financial results for our midstream and transportation and storage segments are estimated using volume estimates and market prices. Actual results could differ from our estimates if the underlying assumptions prove to be incorrect.

Revenue Recognition. Revenues for sales of natural gas, NGLs including propane, and propane appliances, parts, and fittings are recognized at the later of the time of delivery of the product to the customer or the time of sale or installation. Revenue from service labor, transportation, treating, compression, and gas processing, is recognized upon completion of the service. Transportation capacity payments are recognized when earned in the period the capacity is made available. Tank rent is recognized ratably over the period it is earned.

Results from the midstream segment are determined primarily by the volumes of natural gas gathered, compressed, treated, processed, purchased and sold through our pipeline and gathering systems and the level of natural gas and NGL prices. We generate midstream revenues and gross margins principally under fee-based arrangements or other arrangements. Under fee-based arrangements, we receive a fee for natural gas gathering, compressing, treating or processing services. The revenue earned from these arrangements is directly related to the volume of natural gas that flows through our systems and is not directly dependent on commodity prices.

We also utilize other types of arrangements in our midstream segment, including (i) discount-to-index price arrangements, which involve purchases of natural gas at either (1) a percentage discount to a specified index price, (2) a specified index price less a fixed amount, or (3) a percentage discount to a specified index price less an additional fixed amount, (ii) percentage-of-proceeds arrangements under which we gather and processes natural gas on behalf of producers, selling the resulting residue gas and NGL volumes at market prices and remitting to producers an agreed upon percentage of the proceeds based on an index price, and (iii) keep-whole arrangements where we gather natural gas from the producer, processes the natural gas and sells the resulting NGLs to third parties at market prices. In many cases, we provide services under contracts that contain a combination of more than one of the arrangements described above. The terms of our contracts vary based on gas quality conditions, the competitive environment at the time the contracts are signed and customer requirements. Our contract mix may change as a result of changes in producer preferences, expansion in regions where some types of contracts are more common and other market factors.

Our transportation and storage segment results are determined primarily by the amount of capacity customers reserve as well as the actual volume of natural gas that flows through the transportation pipelines. Under transportation contracts, our customers are charged (i) a demand fee, which is a fixed fee for the reservation of an agreed amount of capacity on the transportation pipeline for a specified period of time and which obligates the customer to pay us even if the customer does not transport natural gas on the respective pipeline, (ii) a transportation fee, which is based on the actual throughput of natural gas by the customer, (iii) a fuel retention based on a percentage of gas transported on the pipeline, or (iv) a combination of the three, generally payable monthly. The transportation and storage segment also generates its revenues and margin from the sale and marketing of natural gas to electric utilities, independent power plants, local distribution companies, industrial end-users, and other marketing companies on the HPL system.

We account for our trading activities under the provisions of EITF Issue No. 02-3, “Accounting for Contracts Involved in Energy Trading and Risk Management Activities” (“EITF 02-3”), which requires revenue and costs related to energy trading contracts to be presented on a net basis in the income statement.

Fair Value of Derivative Commodity Contracts. We utilize various exchange-traded and over-the-counter commodity financial instrument contracts to limit our exposure to margin fluctuations in natural gas, NGL and propane prices and in our trading activities. These contracts consist primarily of commodity forwards, futures, swaps, options and certain basis contracts as cash flow hedging instruments. Certain contracts are not accounted for as hedges and, in accordance with SFAS No. 133 “Accounting for Derivative Instruments and Hedging Activities” (“SFAS 133”), the gains and losses resulting from changes in the fair value of these contracts are recorded on a current basis on the statement of operations. In our retail propane business, we classify all gains and losses from these derivative contracts entered into for risk management purposes as liquids marketing revenue in the consolidated statement of operations. The gains and losses on the natural gas derivative contracts that are entered into for trading purposes are recognized in the midstream and transportation and storage revenue on a net basis in the consolidated statement of operations. The non-trading gains and losses for natural gas contracts are recorded as cost

 

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of products sold in the consolidated statement of operations. On our contracts that are designated as cash flow hedges in accordance with SFAS No. 133, the effective portion of the hedged gain or loss is initially reported as a component of other comprehensive income and is subsequently reclassified into earnings when the physical transaction settles. The ineffective portion of the gain or loss is reported in earnings immediately. We utilize published settlement prices for exchange-traded contracts, quotes provided by brokers, and estimates of market prices based on daily contract activity to estimate the fair value of these contracts. We also use the Black-Scholes valuation model to estimate the value of certain options. Changes in the methods used to determine the fair value of these contracts could have a material effect on our results of operations. We do not anticipate future changes in the methods used to determine the fair value of these derivative contracts.

Natural Gas Exchanges. We record exchange receivables and payables when a customer delivers more or less gas into our pipelines than they take out. We primarily estimate the value of our exchanges at prices representing the value of the commodity at the end of the accounting reporting period. Changes in natural gas prices may impact our valuation. Based on our net payable position of $1.5 million as of August 31, 2006, a change in natural gas prices of 10 percent could positively or negatively affect our results of operations by $0.2 million.

Volume Measurement. We record amounts for natural gas gathering and transportation revenue, liquid transportation and handling revenue, natural gas sales and natural gas purchases, and the sale of production based on volumetric calculations. Variances resulting from such calculations are inherent in our business.

Impairment of Long-Lived Assets and Goodwill. Long-lived assets are required to be tested for recoverability whenever events or changes in circumstances indicate that the carrying amount of the asset may not be recoverable. Goodwill must be tested for impairment annually or more frequently if events or changes in circumstances indicate that the related asset might be impaired. An impairment loss should be recognized only if the carrying amount of the asset/goodwill is not recoverable and exceeds its fair value.

In order to test for recoverability, we must make estimates of projected cash flows related to the asset which include, but are not limited to, assumptions about the use or disposition of the asset, estimated remaining life of the asset, and future expenditures necessary to maintain the asset’s existing service potential. In order to determine fair value, we make certain estimates and assumptions, including, among other things, changes in general economic conditions in regions in which our markets are located, the availability and prices of natural gas and propane supply, our ability to negotiate favorable sales agreements, the risks that natural gas exploration and production activities will not occur or be successful, our dependence on certain significant customers and producers of natural gas, and competition from other midstream companies, including major energy producers. Due to the subjectivity of the assumptions used to test for recoverability and to determine fair value, significant impairment charges could result in the future, thus affecting our future reported net income.

Property, Plant, and Equipment. Maintenance capital expenditures are capital expenditures made to replace partially or fully depreciated assets in order to maintain the existing operating capacity of our assets and to extend their useful lives. Maintenance capital expenditures also include capital expenditures made to connect additional wells to our systems in order to maintain or increase throughput on our existing assets. Growth or expansion capital expenditures are capital expenditures made to expand the existing operating capacity of our assets, whether through construction or acquisition. We treat repair and maintenance expenditures that do not extend the useful life of existing assets as operating expenses as we incur them. Upon disposition or retirement of pipeline components or gas plant components, any gain or loss is recorded to accumulated depreciation. When entire pipeline systems, gas plants or other property and equipment are retired or sold, any gain or loss is included in operations. Depreciation of property, plant and equipment is provided using the straight-line method based on their estimated useful life ranging from 5 to 65 years. Changes in the estimated useful lives of the assets could have a material effect on our results of operation. We do not anticipate future changes in the estimated useful live of our property, plant, and equipment.

Amortization of Intangible Assets. For those intangible assets that do not have indefinite lives, we calculate amortization using the straight-line method over periods ranging from 2 to 15 years. We use amortization methods and determine asset values based on management’s best estimate using reasonable and supportable assumptions and projections. Changes in the amortization methods, asset values or estimated lives could have a material effect on our results of operations. We do not anticipate future changes in the estimated useful lives of our intangible assets.

Asset Retirement Obligation. An entity is required to recognize the fair value of a liability for an asset retirement obligation in the period in which it is incurred if a reasonable estimate of fair value can be made. If a reasonable estimate cannot be made in the period the asset retirement obligation is incurred, the liability should be recognized when a reasonable estimate of fair value can be made.

 

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In order to determine fair value, management must make certain estimates and assumptions including, among other things, projected cash flows, a credit-adjusted risk-free rate, and an assessment of market conditions that could significantly impact the estimated fair value of the asset retirement obligation. These estimates and assumptions are very subjective. We have determined that we are obligated by contractual or regulatory requirements to remove assets or perform other remediation upon retirement of certain assets. However, the fair value of our asset retirement obligation cannot currently be reasonably estimated because the settlement dates are indeterminate. We will record an asset retirement obligation in the periods in which it can reasonably determine the settlement dates.

Income Per Limited Partner Unit. Basic net income per limited partner unit is computed in accordance with EITF Issue No. 03-6 (“EITF 03-6”) Participating Securities and the Two-Class method under FASB Statement No. 128, by dividing limited partners’ interest in net income by the weighted average number of Common and Class B Units outstanding. In periods when our aggregate net income exceeds the aggregate distributions, EITF 03-6 requires us to present earnings per unit as if all of the earnings for the periods were distributed, see Note 4 – “Net Income Per Limited Partner Unit” to our consolidated financial statements. Diluted net income per limited partner unit is computed by dividing limited partners’ interest in net income, after considering the General Partner’s interest, by the weighted average number of Common and Class B Units outstanding and the effect of non-vested restricted units (“Unit Grants”), if any.

EXCERPTS ON THIS PAGE:

10-K
Oct 30, 2007
10-K
Nov 29, 2006

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