WASHINGTON - Businesses appear to have won a short reprieve from a Financial Accounting Standards Board proposal to eliminate the "pooling-of-interests" method of accounting for mergers.

The FASB said a final statement on the subject will not be released until the first quarter of 2001. The original plan had been to release the statement in the fourth quarter. FASB statements, which define Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, are effective on their date of issue.

The pooling method is preferred by many businesses, because it allows them to combine their assets rather than executing a formal purchase, which would require a charge against the acquirer's income for goodwill. Goodwill is the difference between an acquired company's book value and the price the acquirer paid for it. FASB is expected to eliminate the pooling method and to require that mergers be accounted for as purchases, with goodwill written off over 20 years.

Other than giving some breathing room to companies already considering a merger, experts said, the delay is likely to make little difference to businesses.

"It may take a little of the pressure off of [companies] that thought they had to get a deal done by December," said H. Rodgin Cohen, chairman and senior partner of the New York law firm Sullivan & Cromwell. "This is not a huge thing. It will effect timing more than substance."

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