Fair Value of Financial Instruments
The carrying amount of cash and cash equivalents, funds deposited by counterparties, receivables, accounts payable, and accrued liabilities approximate fair value because of the short-term maturity of these instruments. See Note 4, Fair Value of Financial Instruments, for a further discussion of fair value of financial instruments.
Asset Retirement Obligations
NRG accounts for AROs in accordance with ASC 410-20, Asset Retirement Obligations, or ASC 410-20. Retirement obligations associated with long-lived assets included within the scope of ASC 410-20 are those for which a legal obligation exists under enacted laws, statutes, and written or oral contracts, including obligations arising under the doctrine of promissory estoppel, and for which the timing and/or method of settlement may be conditional on a future event. ASC 410-20 requires an entity to recognize the fair value of a liability for an ARO in the period in which it is incurred and a reasonable estimate of fair value can be made.
Upon initial recognition of a liability for an ARO, NRG capitalizes the asset retirement cost by increasing the carrying amount of the related long-lived asset by the same amount. Over time, the liability is accreted to its future value, while the capitalized cost is depreciated over the useful life of the related asset. See Note 13, Asset Retirement Obligations, for a further discussion of AROs.
Pensions and Other Postretirement Benefits
NRG offers pension benefits through a defined benefit pension plan. In addition, the Company provides postretirement health and welfare benefits for certain groups of employees. NRG accounts for pension and other postretirement benefits in accordance with ASC 715, Compensation — Retirement Benefits. NRG recognizes the funded status of the Company's defined benefit plans in the statement of financial position and records an offset for gains and losses as well as all prior service costs that have not been included as part of the Company's net periodic benefit cost to other comprehensive income. The determination of NRG's obligation and expenses for pension benefits is dependent on the selection of certain assumptions. These assumptions determined by management include the discount rate, the expected rate of return on plan assets and the rate of future compensation increases. NRG's actuarial consultants determine assumptions for such items as retirement age. The assumptions used may differ materially from actual results, which may result in a significant impact to the amount of pension obligation or expense recorded by the Company.
NRG measures the fair value of its pension assets in accordance with ASC 820, Fair Value Measurements and Disclosures, or ASC 820.
NRG accounts for its stock-based compensation in accordance with ASC 718, Compensation — Stock Compensation, or ASC 718. The fair value of the Company's non-qualified stock options and performance units are estimated on the date of grant using the Black-Scholes option-pricing model and the Monte Carlo valuation model, respectively. NRG uses the Company's common stock price on the date of grant as the fair value of the Company's restricted stock units and deferred stock units. Forfeiture rates are estimated based on an analysis of NRG's historical forfeitures, employment turnover, and expected future behavior. The Company recognizes compensation expense for both graded and cliff vesting awards on a straight-line basis over the requisite service period for the entire award.
Investments Accounted for by the Equity Method
NRG has investments in various domestic energy projects, as well as one Australian project. The equity method of accounting is applied to such investments in affiliates, which include joint ventures and partnerships, because the ownership structure prevents NRG from exercising a controlling influence over the operating and financial policies of the projects. Under this method, equity in pre-tax income or losses of domestic partnerships and, generally, in the net income or losses of its Australian project, are reflected as equity in earnings of unconsolidated affiliates. Distributions from equity method investments that represent a return on the Company's investment are included within cash flows from operating activities and distributions from equity method investments that represent a return of the Company's investment are included within cash flows from investing activities.