Treasury Secretary comments on accounting and auditing

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22 Nov 2006

United States Secretary of the Treasury Henry M Paulson spoke recently to the Economic Club of New York on the Competitiveness of Capital Markets.

He gave particular emphasis to accounting and auditing matters. Click to Download Mr Paulson's Remarks (PDF 68k). Here is an excerpt from the comments on accounting:

The corporate scandals were, for the most part, accounting scandals, so it is not surprising that so much of the recent reform has focused on the accounting industry. Our accounting system is the lifeblood of our capital markets. And it has historically represented a very high standard. But it was abused in the corporate scandals by manipulation and smoothing of earnings.

Capital markets rely on trust, which is based on financial information presumed to be accurate and to reflect economic reality. The ultimate responsibility for accurate and transparent financial statements must rest with management. The role of the external auditor is to examine a company's financial statements in order to express an opinion that conveys reasonable, but not absolute, assurance as to the truth and fairness of the statements. Auditors do this by evaluating management's adherence to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles....

A common theme in my remarks today is the desirability, where practical, of moving toward a principles-based system. Nowhere is this issue more relevant than in the accounting system. Added complexity and more rules are not the answer for a system that needs to provide accurate and timely information to investors in a world where best of class companies are continually readjusting their business models to remain competitive.

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