SEC Member would let markets choose IFRSs or US GAAP

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22 Apr 2008

In last week Remarks before the American Chamber of Commerce in Brazil, US SEC Commissioner Paul S Atkins discussed regulatory effectiveness and efficiency, including a number of steps that the SEC has taken to reduce regulatory burdens in US financial markets.

He suggests that the choice between US GAAP and IFRSs should be left to market participants, not regulators:

A second step that the SEC took to address concerns about the capital markets was the elimination, last December and effective immediately, of the reconciliation requirement for foreign companies that file using International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), as promulgated by the International Accounting Standards Board. Previously, companies had to restate their financial statements according to US generally accepted accounting principles (US GAAP). This action comes in response to a move by much of the rest of the world to shift to IFRS. Brazilian companies, which are scheduled to adopt IFRS by 2010, will be able to benefit from this change. This change also should benefit US investors who seek to invest in non-US companies. The rationale is that US investors are already investing directly abroad in IFRS-reporting companies and have become accustomed to relying on it. At any rate, reconciliations to US GAAP are published only months after the companies' financial statements are released. Thus, performing reconciliations is costly for companies, and reconciliations appear to be of limited use to those who look at financial statements.

Meanwhile, the SEC is considering whether to permit US companies to file using IFRS. If IFRS is good enough for non-US companies, then why not for American companies as well? Making this change would leave the choice between US GAAP and IFRS to the markets. If investors prefer one set of accounting standards over another, they may well reward with premium pricing those issuers who use the preferred set. You can easily see the utility of IFRS for multi-national U.S. companies that access international capital markets and have non-U.S.-based competitors.

IFRS, of course, is still a work in progress, and there are areas in which IFRS has no applicable standards. The US Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) and the IASB have much still to do in converging US GAAP and IFRS, but both are committed to this work. Other issues that remain concern the funding and governance of the IASB, supporting the further development and consistent implementation of IFRS, encouraging education of accountants in IFRS, and working towards continued convergence.

Click to view Remarks before the American Chamber of Commerce in Brazil (PDF 66k).

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