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Posts Tagged ‘IFRS resistance’

Influential accounting news and commentary blog, Going Concern, is airing a series of interviews with key figures in the IFRS debate.  The second installment of the series, published April 1, 2010, features me.  Click on, “Professor David Albrecht: IFRS Will Make Financial Statement Comparison an Impossibility,” to read the interview.

Many thanks to the team at Going Concern (Caleb Newquist, managing editor) for thinking of me, and to ace reporter Adrienne Gonzalez (aka Junior Deputy Accountant) for the fine write-up.

Debit and credit – – David Albrecht

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J. Edward Ketz is my round tuit.  ???  A round tuit is anything that unlocks your sense of inertia, allowing you to start working on some task that has been delayed far too long.

An example helps.  Have you, like me, ever been nailed for procrastinating?  All the time.  It probably followed this thought, “I’ll get a round tuit when there’s a free moment.”  But everything else doesn’t get done and there’s no free time, so you never get a round to it.

Ed is my round tuit.

On February 25, 2010, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) released a formal Commission Statement in Support of Convergence and Global Accounting Standards.

I never got around to reacting.  Yesterday (March 29, 2010), Ed Ketz published his reaction, “The Iffiness of IFRS“.  It’s better than anything I can  write (anything Ed writes is always better than anything I can ever write, just take it for truth).  Better late than ever, here are my personal reactions.

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On February 25, 2010, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) released a formal Commission Statement in Support of Convergence and Global Accounting Standards.

I never got around to reacting.  Today (March 29, 2010), Ed Ketz publishes his reaction, “The Iffiness of IFRS” at SmartPros.   It’s better than anything I can write (anything Ed writes is always going to be better than anything I can ever write, just take it for truth).  For those of you new to The Summa, Professor Ketz is a charter member of the group of IFRS critics.

For years, Ketz has railed (Merriam-Webster: to revile or scold in harsh, insolent, or abusive language) at the corporate practice of financial reporting.  He has repeatedly said that the number one problem is that corporations simply don’t follow the rules.  If ever they were all to be in a general state of compliance, then we could talk about about the structure of accounting standards.  But first, we need compliance.  Generally speaking, he favors specific accounting rules that permit no wiggle room.  Such rules make it easier to crack down on wrong-doers.

Professor Ketz’s latest editorial is “The Iffiness of IFRS.”  He responds to the SEC and suggests several issues that still need to be worked out before IFRS adoption.  Although the context for his remarks is opposing IFRS adoption, he believes the biggest problem with the proposed transition is:

… whether IFRS statements can be audited and what will happen in the courtroom after a firm experiences severe declines in its stock price.

Ketz concludes with:

… I again marvel at the rush to IFRS. The benefits do not appear to match or exceed the costs of the adoption.

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The U.S. government bears the societal responsibility for establishing accounting standards.  In its structure of economic regulation, the task for creating accounting standards is fixed on the Securities and Exchange Commission.  For seventy years the SEC has passed on its responsibilities, instead relying upon private U.S. organizations.   This has been called the Ostrich Syndrome (aka Head-in-Sand).  Now, the SEC proposes to rely upon a private international organization (IASB).  I call this the Some Sort of Ostrich Syndrome (aka Head-Where-It-Doesn’t-Need-to-Be).

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The push for IFRS continues on, unrelenting, like the steady flow of the Mississippi River.  We have all noticed it.  Switching the United States from U.S. GAAP to IFRS is desired in the U.S. only by large audit firms, CEOs of large multinationals, and SEC regulators and their staffs.  Investors, rank and file accountants and accounting professors oppose the move.  Audit firm principals and corporate executives stand to profit, one way or another, by billions and billions and billions and billions of U.S. dollars.  It is self-debasing greed.  It is avarice of the corrupted soul.

It reminds me of things mentioned in a speech by Arthur R. Wyatt on August 3, 2003 to attendees of the American Accounting Association national convention:  Accounting Professionalism–They Just Don’t Get it.  Wyatt had an impressive resume:  accounting professor, Arthur Andersen partner, FASB member, IASC member.  He spoke to the annual conference as to why things got so bad that one of the Big 5 went kaput, and it was just happenstance that it did not happen to any of the four survivors.

I think Wyatt considered Arthur Andersen’s fate to be deserved, as he described an historical evolution that resulted in Andersen abandoning its responsibility.  I’m quoting a long passage from his speech that contains his conclusion:

Just as greed appears to have been the driving force at many of the companies that have failed or had significant restructurings, greed became a force to contend with in the accounting firms.  In essence, the cultures of the firms had gradually changed from a central emphasis on delivering professional services in a professional manner to an emphasis on growing revenues and profitability.  …

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Stop!  Don’t move in inch!  Stop!  Hold the presses!

Even if the U.S. adopts IFRS, there is a chance that U.S. GAAP will survive and thrive.

Come again?

If IFRS implementation is anything like SOX implementation, then there is a chance that U.S. GAAP will survive.

It is so obvious, not even Captain Obvious is talking about it.  The rationale for my conclusion starts with a history lesson on SOX.
The Sarbanes Oxley Act of 2002 was passed in the immediate aftermath of (1) the dotcom burst bubble, (2) a huge recession, (3) the WTC terrorist attack, (4) dozens of  accounting scandals such as WorldCom and Enron, and (5) Washington’s perceived need to save the country from itself through increased regulation.  It is said that George H.W. Bush later so regretted his part in SOX’s passage, that he pushed IFRS as a way of making it up to corporate America (IFRS is a gift offering because of itse earnings management capabilities).

Here’s what corporate America thought of SOX.

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[Postscript:  a well placed observer has questioned the wisdom of my claiming that certain SEC commissioners are ignorant.  Upon glancing through transcripts of the commissioners’ remarks (released after the publication of this essay), I can understand now how “ignorant” was a poor choice of wording, and I apologize to the Commissioners for that word usage.  At the time I wrote the essay, I was grasping for some reason why certain commissioners continue to spout sophistry (false reasoning).   I chalked it up to ignorance.  I now realize that I might never know the reason for the sophistry, as the SEC principals refuse to discuss the assumptions and conceptual foundations of their sophistry.   Never-the-less, sophistry it is, and that’s what I was reacting to.  Were I to write the article today, I would title it either:  SEC Sophistry To Lead to Folly, or, SEC Errant Views To Lead to Folly.  Profalbrecht, 11/27/09]


Yesterday, a third Commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission spoke out, (1) decrying the politicization of the accounting standard setting process, and (2) advocating the need for a single set of global accounting standards.  By so speaking she aired her ignorance for all to see. [Sentence removed 11/27/09]

 

As reported in a Reuters update, “SEC’s Casey: Accounting Convergence Must Continue,” Kathleen Casey “warned against the over politicization of accounting rules, or attempts to pressure accounting rule makers to write rules that would favor a specific goal sought by a particular industry.”  Earlier this week, another SEC Commissioner, Elisse Walter, said the same thing.  SEC chair Mary Schapiro has been saying it since her confirmation hearings   Not to be left in the cold, FASB Chair Robert Herz chimed in with a similar sentiment.  Of course, they all chant the mantra of global accounting standards.

They are wrong.  I hope everyone in the world knows it. [Sentence deleted 11/27/09]

Here’s why they are wrong.

There is no such thing as universal accounting truth. Accounting rules spring from the reason of human beings.  The rules and principles that guide today’s capital markets are recent inventions.  The most cherished accounting axiom–assets equal liabilities plus owners equity–has been around less than six hundred years.  Before that there was simply no need for it, therefore it wasn’t yet invented.  Here’s a news flash:  that accounting axiom is obsolete and no longer works in today’s world (we’ve piled so much on it, it no longer balances).

Accounting rules that govern the formation of corporate financial statements all have economic consequences.  It has always been this way.  Every rule puts some interest group at an advantage over another.  From the start, investors have clamored for more disclosure than the executives running corporations have wanted to supply.  This tension is natural.  There is no right or wrong in an absolute accounting sense, God has no such commandment.

It is any (or every) government’s domain is to adjudicate between competing economic interests.  That is what government does.  For example, governments are good at levying and collecting taxes.  This has been going on since the beginning of human history.  And what is tax but one group being forced to transfer it’s money to another group.

How does a government decide between competing interests?  By politics.

It is foolish for anyone to abdicate his/her right to seek a political solution to any political, economic, social or military issue.   Why would anyone want to do that?  It is tantamount to denying the person’s free will, “No, I’m too stupid to decide for myself, you do it for me.  Really, I insist.”

We have not always realized the political nature of standard setting in the U.S.  However, since the formation of the FASB every potential accounting standard has had to go through a political process:  discussion memorandum, then exposure draft.  And the SEC always  has the ability to override (which it has upon occasion).

Why then, are these people decrying the current politicization of accounting standards? It is because they don’t want to get trumped by someone else’s politics.

They are using a time-tested tactic:  state a fallacy long enough and long enough and pretty soon it is accepted as verdad!

Please realize that no SEC commissioner has taken advanced education in accounting.  Nor has the chief accountant.  Nor has the current chair of the FASB. [Sentence removed 11/27] I put forth the notion that possibly, just possibly, they have missed out on something that the rest of us have known for a long time.  It is the way of human beings that accounting standard setting is a political process.

If you can buy into that, then here’s the rest of the truth.  Political factors, and the governmental processes that adjudicate between them, are not the same all over the world.  They are different in parts of Europe and Asia than they are in the U.S.  As a result, the League of Nations could not function as envisioned, neither could the United Nations.

Similar political processes affect accounting standard setting.  Surprise!  How reasonable is it to think that global accounting standard setters are going to be responsive to economic interests in your part of the world?  France is already discovering that the IASB’s IFRS are not responsive to certain French economic interests.  So France is balking.  As it should.  Ceding control of French economic interests over to the IASB was a stupid thing to do.  It was incredibly stupid.  And so it will be if the U.S. does likewise.

Unfortunately, the SEC commissioners are ignorant of all things accounting.  It’s ignorance is leading it to adopt IFRS.  And that, my friends, is pure folly. do not understand that they are sophist in the ways of accounting,   Sophistry acted on is folly. [remarks edited 11/27/09]  A folly that will cost of us trillions.

The SEC's sophistry is a crying shame! (edited)

As has been chronicled in this blog, the smartest and wisest accounting professors (the nerds who study accounting for a living) have carefully explained why there should be no single set of global accounting standards.  The SEC, though, is ignorant. That, or its commissioners are not educated enough to understand.sophist [edited 11/27/09].  Sob, that’s a crying shame.

Debit and credit – – David Albrecht

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Mary Schapiro testifying before Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs

Mary Schapiro testifying before Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs

Yesterday brought a very big piece of news.  Mary Schapiro appeared before the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.  A video of the appearance is here.    Here is my best attempt at transcripting the most relevant part of the hearing.

Senator Jack Reed (D-RI): Much of what you are going to do will have complications and consequences overseas as well as here in the United States, and one of the areas is IFRS road map.  We have repeated written to Chairman Cox, who tried to determine and develop a very deliberate road map, and I think there’s a rush to judgment on this issue.  In fact, I met witih the CEO of the Honeywell Corporation who has similar concerns over disparate treatment under international rules thata can be used to change income, that can be used to state R&D expenses differently.  There’s a host of … an opportunity for arbitrage between the two systems that I think we have to avoid.  Can you give us a notion of how you wish to proceed with this international accounting with recognition that eventually we’ll have that in a global economy and hopefully we will converge to a set of high level standards.

Mary Schapiro: Well, I would proceed with great caution so that we don’t have a race to the bottom.  I think we all can agree that a single set of accounting standards used around the world would be a very beneficial thing, would investors to compare companies around the world.   With that said, I have some concerns with the road map that has been published by the SEC and is out for comment now.  I have some concerns about IFRS standards generally.  They are not as detailed as the U.S. standards.  There’s a lot left to interpretation.  Even if adopted, there will still be a lack of consistency,  I believe,around the world on how they are implemented and how they are enforced.  The cost to switch from U.S. GAAP to IFRS is going to be extraordinary, and I’ve seen some estimates that range as high as $30 million for each U.S. company in order to do that.  This is a time when I think we have to think carefully about whether we impose those sorts of costs on U.S. industry, really make sense.  Perhaps my greatest concern is the independence of the International Accounting Standards Board and the ability to have oversight over their process as they make standards and the amount of rigor that exists in that process today.  So, I will tell you that I will take a great big breath and look at this entire area again, carefully, and will not necessarily feel bound by the existing road map that is out there for comment.

First of all, I am so happily surprised  that Mary Schapiro made these comments.  They are more protective of U.S. GAAP than I ever imagined would come out of the Obama administration.  I am grateful that the IFRS opposition apparently has been listened to, even though it has not been properly understood.  Welcome aboard, Mary Schapiro.  I hope that you frequently read The Summa for advice on how to handle the IFRS issue.

Her statement, coming during the confirmation process, is not binding.  However, it does give U.S. based opponents of IFRS some hope.  There seems to be an open mind in the Obama administration, that is very good news!

Her statements, however, cannot be considered binding  for three reasons.  First, it could simply be posturing in order to ease concern over her nomination so that she can gain confirmation.  Is this a possibility?  Of course.  Paid $3 million per year to head the NYSE/NASDAQ self-relatory group, her FINRA investigated and failed to catch the  $75 billion Madoff fraud.  Moreover, several key national publications have come out against her confirmation.  She will be confirmed, of course, because Republicans are going to fight a different nomination and not hers.  Never-the-less, she could simply be posturing to gain votes for confirmation.

Second, I don’t think she will have the authority to make the final call over IFRS.   IFRS adoption is an international political issue, and U.S. adoption will be negotiated at the international state level.  It is very possible that the U.S. could bargain away GAAP in order to gain European help to relieve our troops in the Middle East.  Under this scenario, investor protection in the U.S. simply is irrelevant.  National security is the key, and with Obama promising to run up trillion dollar deficits, he will want to save money by bringing home the troops.  Plus, one additional factor.

Third, as I’ve written before, Obama is relying on economists, such as Paul Volcker, for guidance on regulation-related matters, such as accounting standards.  Volcker has been a member of the IASC parent organization for the IASB.  He has been strongly in favor of the U.S. switching to IFRS, for a long time.  He will do everything possible to bring about IFRS in the U.S.  Of course Volcker is out of his depth here, having no background in accounting or finance, and really does not understand the nuances of the issue.  But that isn’t going to stop him.

However, there is no use in saying the sky is falling.  I’m going to take Mary Schapiro at her word and proceed as if the GAAP-IFRS issue is still open.  I have a few comments about her specific words.

First, she says, “I think we all can agree that a single set of accounting standards used around the world would be a very beneficial thing, would investors to compare companies around the world.”  Well, we can’t, because I don’t, nor do others.  One need only to read Shyam Sunder’s work to realize international differences in accounting standards are good.  Countries have different interests, and it is simply ignorant thinking to presume that a single set of standards can satisfy the very different interests that are out there.  For example, the U.S. places a high priority on protecting the investor, and this is reflected in the great amount of detail in our rules.  However, not everyone agrees to that priority.  Nor should they.  Different priorities and national interests will lead naturally to different accounting standards.  This is fundamental and we cannot trust Mary Schapiro to protect U.S. GAAP until she acknowledges it.  No matter what else she says, if she doesn’t get this point then she her thinking is compatible with Paul Volcker, the IFRS champion.

Second, her additional comments sound pretty good.  She seems to be well read.  Don’t know if she’s only read Charley Niemeier, or whether she’s read the other six critics of IFRS.  But at least she has comprehended some of the arguments.  Never-the-less, everything here must be interpreted in the context that she believes a single set of world-wide accounting standards would be beneficial and is attainable.  As I said before, it is not necessarily beneficial, and I’ve argued for a long time that it is unattainable.  For her to continue down this road is simply wasted thinking.

Third, she expresses a desire for the SEC to have oversight with respect to the IASB accounting standard generating process.  Well honey, every other country in the world is going to want to have the same oversight desires.  It seems clear that you want some control over the process, but everyone else wants that also.  Why, Europe has already exerted that control with respect to forcing certain changes to the fair value standard.  Let’s get this straight–the SEC will never, ever, get the degree of oversight it desires with respect to IFRS.  I believe that this should be sufficient to bury the IFRS issue forever.  I don’t even know why you are going to spend time on it.

I’m still going to submit a comment to the SEC on Cox’s proposed road map. And I’m going to continue to write about the benefits for the U.S. to retain GAAP.  If it weren’t for international politics, it would be a no brainer.

Debit and credit – – Dave Albrecht

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Note:  this is the final version of this essay.

This is part seven of an eight-part series in which I review the seven International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) critics (Sunder, Niemeier, Ball, Ketz, Selling, Jensen & Albrecht) of whom I am aware.  The series continues on regular posting dates, MWF.

In today’s essay, I review the anti-IFRS views of myself, David Albrecht, Ph.D.  An accounting professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, I have been a vocal opponent of the proposed switchover in accounting standards for quite a while.  Until starting this blog two months ago, my primary forum was via posts to AECM, the e-mail listserv for accounting professors.

I am opposed to IFRS for the U.S. because (1) the politics of the decision are unwarranted, (2)  I believe it will be bad for the country, and (3) it will not aid the world in creating an integrated financial system. (more…)

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This is part six of an eight-part series in which I review the seven IFRS critics (Sunder, Niemeier, Ball, Ketz, Selling, Jensen & Albrecht) of whom I am aware.  The series continues on regular posting dates, MWF.

Robert E. Jensen

Robert E. Jensen

In today’s essay, I review the anti-IFRS views of Robert E. Jensen, Ph.D., as summarized from his posts to the AECM listserv (Accounting Education Using Computers and and Multimedia) and on his web site page on accounting standard setting controversies.

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This is part five of an eight-part series in which I review the seven IFRS critics (Sunder, Niemeier, Ball, Ketz, Selling, Jensen & Albrecht) of whom I am aware.  The series continues over the next two weeks on regular posting dates, MWF.

Tom Selling, retired professor now conducts private consulting practice.

Tom Selling, retired professor now conducts private consulting practice.

In today’s essay, I review the anti-IFRS views of Tom Selling, Ph.D., as summarized in his recent blog post, “Top Ten Reasons Why U.S. Adoption of IFRS is a Terrible Idea.”  I consider Selling’s argument to be top notch and an essential component to the IFRS opposition.  It is a must read.

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