management’s discussion and analysis
of financial condition and results of operations

Critical Accounting Estimates and Recent Accounting Standards

Critical Accounting Estimates

A summary of the critical accounting estimates used in preparing our financial statements is as follows:

  • Wireless licenses and Goodwill are a significant component of our consolidated assets. Both our wireless licenses and goodwill are treated as indefinite-lived intangible assets and, therefore are not amortized, but rather are tested for impairment annually in the fourth fiscal quarter, unless there are events or changes in circumstances during an interim period that indicates these assets may not be recoverable. We believe our estimates and assumptions are reasonable and represent appropriate marketplace considerations as of the valuation date. We do not believe that reasonably likely adverse changes in our assumptions and estimates would result in an impairment charge as of our latest impairment testing date. However, if there is a substantial and sustained adverse decline in our operating profitability, we may have impairment charges in future years. Any such impairment charge could be material to our results of operations and financial condition.

    Wireless Licenses

    The carrying value of our wireless licenses was approximately $73.3 billion as of December 31, 2011. We aggregate our wireless licenses into one single unit of accounting, as we utilize our wireless licenses on an integrated basis as part of our nationwide wireless network. Our wireless licenses provide us with the exclusive right to utilize certain radio frequency spectrum to provide wireless communication services. There are currently no legal, regulatory, contractual, competitive, economic or other factors that limit the useful life of our wireless licenses. Our impairment test consists of comparing the estimated fair value of our wireless licenses to the aggregated carrying amount as of the test date. If the estimated fair value of our wireless licenses is less than the aggregated carrying amount of the wireless licenses then an impairment charge is recognized. Our annual impairment tests for 2011, 2010 and 2009 indicated that the fair value significantly exceeded the carrying value and, therefore, did not result in an impairment.

    We estimate the fair value of our wireless licenses using a direct income based valuation approach. This approach uses a discounted cash flow analysis to estimate what a marketplace participant would be willing to pay to purchase the aggregated wireless licenses as of the valuation date. As a result we are required to make significant estimates about future cash flows specifically associated with our wireless licenses, an appropriate discount rate based on the risk associated with those estimated cash flows and assumed terminal value and growth rates. We consider current and expected future economic conditions, current and expected availability of wireless network technology and infrastructure and related equipment and the costs thereof as well as other relevant factors in estimating future cash flows. The discount rate represents our estimate of the weighted average cost of capital (or expected return, ’WACC”) that a marketplace participant would require as of the valuation date. We develop the discount rate based on our consideration of the cost of debt and equity of a group of guideline companies as of the valuation date. Accordingly, our discount rate incorporates our estimate of the expected return a marketplace participant would require as of the valuation date, including the risk premium associated with the current and expected economic conditions as of the valuation date. The terminal value growth rate represents our estimate of the marketplace’s long-term growth rate.

    Goodwill

    At December 31, 2011, the balance of our goodwill was approximately $23.4 billion, of which $18.0 billion was in our Wireless segment and $5.4 billion was in our Wireline segment. Determining whether an impairment has occurred requires the determination of fair value of each respective reporting unit. Our operating segments, Verizon Wireless and Wireline, are deemed to be our reporting units for purposes of goodwill impairment testing. The fair value of Verizon Wireless and Wireline exceeded their carrying value. Accordingly, our annual impairment tests for 2011, 2010 and 2009 did not result in
    an impairment.

    The fair value of the reporting unit is calculated using a market approach and a discounted cash flow method. The market approach includes the use of comparative multiples to corroborate discounted cash flow results. The discounted cash flow method is based on the present value of two components — projected cash flows and a terminal value. The terminal value represents the expected normalized future cash flows of the reporting unit beyond the cash flows from the discrete projection period. The fair value of the reporting unit is calculated based on the sum of the present value of the cash flows from the discrete period and the present value of the terminal value. The estimated cash flows are discounted using a rate that represents our WACC.

  • We maintain benefit plans for most of our employees, including, for certain employees, pension and other postretirement benefit plans. At December 31, 2011, in the aggregate, pension plan benefit obligations exceeded the fair value of pension plan assets, which will result in higher future pension plan expense. Other postretirement benefit plans have larger benefit obligations than plan assets, resulting in expense. Significant benefit plan assumptions, including the discount rate used, the long-term rate of return on plan assets and health care trend rates are periodically updated and impact the amount of benefit plan income, expense, assets and obligations. A sensitivity analysis of the impact of changes in these assumptions on the benefit obligations and expense (income) recorded, as well as on the funded status due to an increase or a decrease in the actual versus expected return on plan assets as of December 31, 2011 and for the year then ended pertaining to Verizon’s pension and postretirement benefit plans is provided in the table below.

    (dollars in millions)

    Percentage point
    change

     

    Increase (decrease) at
    December 31, 2011

    *

    Pension plans discount rate

     

    +0.50

     

     

    $

    (1,525

    )

     

     

    -0.50

     

     

     

    1,682

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Rate of return on pension plan assets

     

    +1.00

     

     

     

    (247

    )

     

     

    -1.00

     

     

     

    247

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Postretirement plans discount rate

     

    +0.50

     

     

     

    (1,654

    )

     

     

    -0.50

     

     

     

    1,855

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Rate of return on postretirement plan assets

     

    +1.00

     

     

     

    (27

    )

     

     

    -1.00

     

     

     

    27

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Health care trend rates

     

    +1.00

     

     

     

    3,422

     

     

     

    -1.00

     

     

     

    (2,768

    )

    * In determining its pension and other postretirement obligation, the Company used a 5.0% discount rate. The rate was selected to approximate the composite interest rates available on a selection of high-quality bonds available in the market at December 31, 2011. The bonds selected had maturities that coincided with the time periods during which benefits payments are expected to occur, were non-callable and available in sufficient quantities to ensure marketability (at least $0.3 billion par outstanding).

  • Our current and deferred income taxes, and associated valuation allowances, are impacted by events and transactions arising in the normal course of business as well as in connection with the adoption of new accounting standards, changes in tax laws and rates, acquisitions and dispositions of businesses and non-recurring items. As a global commercial enterprise, our income tax rate and the classification of income taxes can be affected by many factors, including estimates of the timing and realization of deferred income tax assets and the timing and amount of income tax payments. We account for tax benefits taken or expected to be taken in our tax returns in accordance with the accounting standard relating to the uncertainty in income taxes, which requires the use of a two-step approach for recognizing and measuring tax benefits taken or expected to be taken in a tax return. We review and adjust our liability for unrecognized tax benefits based on our best judgment given the facts, circumstances, and information available at each reporting date. To the extent that the final outcome of these tax positions is different than the amounts recorded, such differences may impact income tax expense and actual tax payments. We recognize any interest and penalties accrued related to unrecognized tax benefits in income tax expense. Actual tax payments may materially differ from estimated liabilities as a result of changes in tax laws as well as unanticipated transactions impacting related income tax balances.

  • Our Plant, property and equipment balance represents a significant component of our consolidated assets. We record plant, property and equipment at cost. Depreciation expense on our local telephone operations is principally based on the composite group remaining life method and straight-line composite rates, which provides for the recognition of the cost of the remaining net investment in local telephone plant, less anticipated net salvage value, over the remaining asset lives. An increase or decrease of 50 basis points to the composite rates of this class of assets would result in an increase or decrease of approximately $0.6 billion to depreciation expense based on year-end plant balances at December 31, 2011. We depreciate other plant, property and equipment on a straight-line basis over the estimated useful life of the assets. We expect that a one-year increase in estimated useful lives of our plant, property and equipment that we depreciate on a straight line basis would result in a decrease to our 2011 depreciation expense of $1.2 billion and that a one-year decrease would result in an increase of approximately $1.6 billion in our 2011 depreciation expense.

Recent Accounting Standards

During May 2011, an accounting standard update regarding fair value measurement was issued to provide a consistent definition of fair value and ensure that the fair value measurement and disclosure requirements are similar between U.S. GAAP and International Financial Reporting Standards. This standard update also changes certain fair value measurement principles and enhances the disclosure requirements particularly for Level 3 fair value measurements. We will adopt this standard update during the first quarter of 2012. The adoption of this standard update is not expected to have a significant impact on our consolidated financial statements.

In June 2011, an accounting standard update regarding the presentation of comprehensive income was issued to increase the prominence of items reported in other comprehensive income. The update requires that all nonowner changes in stockholders’ equity be presented either in a single continuous statement of comprehensive income or in two separate, but consecutive statements. This standard update is effective during the first quarter of 2012. The adoption of this standard is not expected to have a significant impact on our consolidated financial statements.

In September 2011, an accounting standard update regarding testing of goodwill for impairment was issued. This standard update gives companies the option to perform a qualitative assessment to first assess whether the fair value of a reporting unit is less than its carrying amount. If an entity determines it is not more likely than not that the fair value of the reporting unit is less than its carrying amount, then performing the two-step impairment test is unnecessary. This standard update is effective during the first quarter of 2012. The adoption of this standard is not expected to have a significant impact on our consolidated financial statements.