Summary of Significant Accounting Policies
The acronyms that appear in these Notes to our Consolidated Financial Statements refer to the following:
Accounting Standards Codification
Accounting Standards Update
Emerging Issues Task Force
Financial Accounting Standards Board
Securities and Exchange Commission
Principles of Consolidation. We conduct our business operations through wholly owned or majority-owned operating subsidiaries. The accompanying consolidated financial statements include the accounts of Morningstar, Inc. and our subsidiaries. We consolidate assets, liabilities, and results of operations of subsidiaries in which we have a controlling interest and eliminate all significant intercompany accounts and transactions.
We account for investments in entities in which we exercise significant influence, but do not control, using the equity method.
As part of our investment management operations, we manage certain funds outside of the U.S. that are considered variable interest entities. For the majority of these variable interest entities, we do not have a variable interest. In cases where we do have a variable interest, we are not the primary beneficiary. Accordingly, we do not consolidate any of these variable interest entities.
Use of Estimates. The preparation of financial statements in conformity with accounting principles generally accepted in the U.S. requires us to make estimates and assumptions that affect the reported amounts of assets, liabilities, revenues, and expenses during the reporting period. Actual results may differ from these estimates.
Cash and Cash Equivalents. Cash and cash equivalents consist of cash and investments with original maturities of three months or less. We state them at cost, which approximates fair value. We state the portion of our cash equivalents that are invested in money market funds at fair value, as these funds are actively traded and have quoted market prices.
Investments. We account for our investments in accordance with FASB ASC 320, Investments—Debt and Equity Securities. We classify our investments into three categories: held-to-maturity, trading, and available-for-sale.
Held-to-maturity: We classify certain investments, primarily certificates of deposit, as held-to-maturity securities, based on our intent and ability to hold these securities to maturity. We record held-to-maturity investments at amortized cost in our Consolidated Balance Sheets.
Trading: We classify certain other investments, primarily equity securities, as trading securities as these relate mainly to investments tracking the strategies of our newsletter portfolios. We include realized and unrealized gains and losses associated with these investments as a component of our operating income in our Consolidated Statements of Income. We record these securities at their fair value in our Consolidated Balance Sheets.
Available-for-sale: Investments not considered held-to-maturity or trading securities are classified as available-for-sale securities. Available-for-sale securities primarily consist of equity securities, exchange-traded funds, and mutual funds. We report unrealized gains and losses for available-for-sale securities as other comprehensive income (loss), net of related income taxes. We record these securities at their fair value in our Consolidated Balance Sheets.
Fair Value Measurements. FASB ASC 820, Fair Value Measurements (FASB ASC 820) defines fair value, establishes a framework for measuring fair value, and expands disclosures about fair value measurements. Under FASB ASC 820, fair value is defined as the price that would be received to sell an asset or paid to transfer a liability in an orderly transaction between market participants as of the measurement date. The standard applies whenever other standards require (or permit) assets or liabilities to be measured at fair value.
FASB ASC 820 uses a fair value hierarchy based on three broad levels of valuation inputs:
Level 1: Valuations based on quoted prices in active markets for identical assets or liabilities that the company has the ability to access.
Level 2: Valuations based on quoted prices in markets that are not active or for which all significant inputs are observable, either directly or indirectly.
Level 3: Valuations based on inputs that are unobservable and significant to the overall fair value measurement.
We provide additional information about our cash equivalents and investments that are subject to valuation under FASB ASC 820 in Note 7.
Concentration of Credit Risk. No single customer is large enough to pose a significant credit risk to our operations or financial condition. For the years ended December 31, 2018, 2017, and 2016, no single customer represented 5% or more of our consolidated revenue. If receivables from our customers become delinquent, we begin a collections process. We maintain an allowance for doubtful accounts based on our estimate of the probable losses of accounts receivable.
Property, Equipment, and Depreciation. We state property and equipment at historical cost, net of accumulated depreciation. We depreciate property and equipment primarily using the straight-line method based on the useful life of the asset, which generally is three years. We amortize leasehold improvements over the lease term or their useful lives, whichever is shorter.
Computer Software and Internal Product Development Costs. We capitalize certain costs in accordance with FASB ASC 350-40, Internal-Use Software, FASB ASC 350-50, Website Development Costs, and FASB ASC 985, Software. Internal product development costs mainly consist of employee costs for developing new web-based products and certain major enhancements of existing products. We amortize these costs on a straight-line basis over the estimated economic life, which is generally three years. We include capitalized software development costs related to projects that have not been placed into service in our construction in progress balance.
The table below summarizes our depreciation expense related to internally developed software for the past three years:
Internally developed software depreciation expense
The table below summarizes our capitalized software development costs for the past three years:
Capitalized software development costs
Business Combinations. When we make acquisitions, we allocate the purchase price to the assets acquired, liabilities assumed, and goodwill. We follow FASB ASC 805, Business Combinations. We recognize and measure the fair value of the acquired operation as a whole, as well as the assets acquired and liabilities assumed, at their full fair values as of the date we obtain control, regardless of the percentage ownership in the acquired operation or how the acquisition was achieved. We expense direct costs related to the business combination, such as advisory, accounting, legal, valuation, and other professional fees, as incurred. We recognize restructuring costs, including severance and relocation for employees of the acquired entity, as post-combination expenses unless the target entity meets the criteria of FASB ASC 420, Exit or Disposal Cost Obligations, on the acquisition date.
As part of the purchase price allocation, we follow the requirements of FASB ASC 740, Income Taxes. This includes establishing deferred tax assets or liabilities reflecting the difference between the values assigned for financial statement purposes and income tax purposes. In certain acquisitions, the goodwill resulting from the purchase price allocation may not be deductible for income tax purposes. FASB ASC 740 prohibits recognition of a deferred tax asset or liability for temporary differences in goodwill if goodwill is not amortizable and deductible for tax purposes.
Goodwill. Changes in the carrying amount of our recorded goodwill are mainly the result of business acquisitions, divestitures, and the effect of foreign currency translations. In accordance with FASB ASC 350, Intangibles—Goodwill and Other, we do not amortize goodwill; instead, goodwill is subject to an impairment test annually, or whenever indicators of impairment exist. An impairment would occur if the carrying amount of a reporting unit exceeded the fair value of that reporting unit. We performed annual impairment reviews in the fourth quarter of 2018 and 2017. We did not record any impairment losses in 2018, 2017, and 2016.
Intangible Assets. We amortize intangible assets using the straight-line method over their estimated useful lives, which range from one to 20 years. We have no intangible assets with indefinite useful lives. In accordance with FASB ASC 360-10-35, Subsequent Measurement—Impairment or Disposal of Long-Lived Assets, we review intangible assets for impairment whenever events or changes in circumstances indicate that the carrying value may not be recoverable. If the value of future undiscounted cash flows is less than the carrying amount of an asset group, we record an impairment loss based on the excess of the carrying amount over the fair value of the asset group. We did not record any impairment losses in 2018, 2017, and 2016.
Revenue Recognition. On January 1, 2018, we began recognizing revenue in accordance with ASC Topic 606, Revenue from Contracts with Customers. The Company has retained much of the same accounting treatment used to recognize revenue under ASC Topic 606 as under accounting standards in effect in prior periods (see Note 18 for additional information).
Under ASC Topic 606, we recognize revenue by applying the following five-step model to each of our customer arrangements:
1.Identify the customer contract;
2.Identify the performance obligations in the contract;
3.Determine the transaction price;
4.Allocate the transaction price to the performance obligations; and
5.Recognize revenue when (or as) performance obligations are satisfied.
Revenues are recognized when (or as) performance obligations are satisfied by transferring a promised product or service to the customer. Products or services are transferred when (or as) the customer obtains control of the product or service. The transaction price for a customer arrangement is the amount we expect to be entitled to in exchange for transferring the promised product or service. The transaction price may include fixed amounts, variable amounts, or both. Amounts invoiced in excess of the revenue recognized for the services transferred during the period will result in an increase to deferred revenue. The timing of cash payments is typically thirty to sixty days after the performance obligation has been satisfied and these payments reduce our outstanding accounts receivable.
Revenue from contracts with customers is derived from license-based arrangements, asset-based arrangements, and transaction-based arrangements.
License-based revenue is generated through subscription contracts with our customers of Morningstar Data, Morningstar Direct, Morningstar Advisor Workstation, Morningstar Enterprise Components, PitchBook Data, and other similar products. Our performance obligations under these contracts are typically satisfied over time, as the customer has access to the product or service during the term of the subscription license and the level of service is consistent during the contract period. Therefore, we recognize revenue for these performance obligations on a straight-line basis, typically over terms of 12 to 36 months.
Asset-based revenue is generated through consulting service contracts with our customers of Morningstar Investment Management, Workplace Solutions, and Morningstar Indexes. Our performance obligations under these contracts are satisfied over time as the customer receives continuous access to a service for the contract term. We recognize revenue over the contract term based on the value of assets under management and a tiered fee agreed to with the customer (typically in a range of 30-55 basis points of the customer’s average daily portfolio balance). Asset-based arrangements typically have a term of 12 to 36 months. The fees from such arrangements represent variable consideration, and the customer does not make separate purchasing decisions that result in additional performance obligations. Significant changes in the underlying fund assets, or significant disruptions in the market, are evaluated to determine if revisions on estimates of earned asset-based fees for the current quarter are needed. An estimate of variable consideration is included in the initial transaction price only to the extent it is probable that a significant reversal in the amount of revenue recognized will not occur. Estimates of asset-based fees are based on the most recently reported quarter, and, as a result, it is unlikely a significant reversal of revenue would occur.
Transaction-based revenue is generated through contracts with our customers for Internet advertising, Morningstar Conferences, and Morningstar Credit Ratings. Our performance obligations for Internet advertising and Morningstar Conferences are satisfied as the service is delivered, and therefore we recognize revenue when the performance obligation is satisfied (as the customer’s advertisements are displayed and at the completion of the Morningstar Conference). Our performance obligations for Morningstar Credit Ratings include the issuance of the rating and may include surveillance services for a period of time as agreed with the customer. We allocate the transaction price to the deliverables based on their relative selling price, which is generally based on the price we charge when the same deliverable is sold separately. Our performance obligation for the issuance of the rating is satisfied when the rating is issued, which is when we recognize the related revenue. Our performance obligations for surveillance services is satisfied over time, as the customer has access to the service during the surveillance period and the level of service is consistent during the contract period. Therefore, we recognize revenue for this performance obligation on a straight-line basis.
Our contracts with customers may include multiple performance obligations. For most of these arrangements, we generally allocate revenue to each performance obligation based on its estimated standalone selling price. We generally determine standalone selling prices based on prices charged to customers when the same performance obligation is sold separately.
Our contracts with customers may include third-party involvement in providing goods or services to the customer. The inclusion of third-party content does not result in separate performance obligations because is it not delivered separately from the other license obligations. In these arrangements, the customer has contracted to receive a single, bundled solution with third-party and Morningstar content delivered via Morningstar’s subscription services. Revenue and related costs of revenue from third-party content is presented on a gross basis within the condensed consolidated financial statements.
We record taxes imposed on revenue-producing transactions (such as sales, use, value-added, and some excise taxes) on a net basis; therefore, we exclude such taxes from revenue in our Consolidated Statements of Income.
Deferred revenue represents the portion of licenses or subscriptions billed or collected in advance of the service being provided which we expect to recognize as revenue in future periods. Certain arrangements may have cancellation or refund provisions. If we make a refund, it typically reflects the amount collected from a customer for which we have not yet provided services. The refund therefore results in a reduction of deferred revenue.
Sales Commissions. Under prior accounting standards, the Company expensed sales incentive compensation costs, (sales commissions) as incurred. However, upon adopting ASC Topic 606 and ASC 340-40, Other Assets and Deferred Costs - Contracts with Customers, on January 1, 2018 (see Note 18 for additional information), we began capitalizing sales commissions, which are considered directly attributable to obtaining a customer contract. Such costs are capitalized using a portfolio approach that aggregates these costs by legal entity within their geographical regions. Capitalized sales commissions are amortized using the straight-line method over a period that is consistent with the transfer of the products or services to the customer to which the sales commission relates. The period of transfer for each portfolio is the shorter of the weighted-average customer life, or the economic life of the underlying technology that delivers the products or services. As of December 31, 2018, the period of transfer was determined to be two to three years. Discretionary amounts which are added to sales commission payments are expensed as incurred, as they are not considered to be directly attributable to obtaining a customer contract.
Advertising Costs. Advertising costs include expenses incurred for various print and Internet ads, search engine fees, and direct mail campaigns. We expense advertising costs as incurred. The table below summarizes our advertising expense for the past three years:
Stock-Based Compensation Expense. We account for our stock-based compensation expense in accordance with FASB ASC 718, Compensation—Stock Compensation. Our stock-based compensation expense reflects grants of restricted stock units, restricted stock, performance share awards, market stock units, and stock options. We measure the fair value of our restricted stock units, restricted stock, and performance share awards on the date of grant based on the closing market price of Morningstar's common stock on the day prior to grant. For market stock units, we estimate the fair value of the awards using a Monte Carlo valuation model. For stock options, we estimate the fair value of our stock options on the date of grant using a Black-Scholes option-pricing model. We amortize the fair values to stock-based compensation expense, net of estimated forfeitures, ratably over the vesting period.
We estimate expected forfeitures of all employee stock-based awards and recognize compensation cost only for those awards expected to vest. We determine forfeiture rates based on historical experience and adjust the estimated forfeitures to actual forfeiture experience as needed.
Liability for Sabbatical Leave. In some of our locations, we offer employees a sabbatical leave. Although the sabbatical policy varies by region, Morningstar's full-time employees are generally eligible for six weeks of paid time off after four years of continuous service. We account for our sabbatical liability in accordance with FASB ASC 710-10-25, Compensated Absences. We record a liability for employees' sabbatical benefits over the period employees earn the right for sabbatical leave and include this liability in Accrued Compensation in our Consolidated Balance Sheet.
Income Taxes. We record deferred income taxes for the temporary differences between the carrying amount of assets and liabilities for financial statement purposes and tax purposes in accordance with FASB ASC 740, Income Taxes (FASB ASC 740). FASB ASC 740 prescribes the minimum recognition threshold a tax position is required to meet before being recognized in the financial statements. It also provides guidance on derecognition, measurement, classification, interest and penalties, accounting in interim periods, and disclosure for uncertain tax positions.
We recognize interest and penalties related to unrecognized tax benefits as part of income tax expense in our Consolidated Statements of Income. We classify liabilities related to unrecognized tax benefits as either current or long-term liabilities in our Consolidated Balance Sheet, depending on when we expect to make payment.