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IASB Chair Thinks SEC Will Decide Soon on IFRS

June 27, 2012

IASB chairman Hans Hoogervorst reportedly expects to see the Securities and Exchange Commission take a position in the next month on whether or not to support International Financial Reporting Standards.

Hoogervorst told a Wall Street Journal CFO Network conference in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday that the SEC staff will soon release its final paper on how it plans to incorporate IFRS into the U.S. financial reporting system. “It’s a matter of weeks, if not days,” he told attendees, according to The Wall Street Journal. Once the SEC staff releases that paper, it will be up to the SEC commissioners to vote on a proposal for IFRS.

However, there are still some caveats. It is not yet clear that the final paper will include a recommendation for whether or not to incorporate IFRS. An earlier draft of the document only proposed a possible way to incorporate IFRS into U.S. GAAP by using the endorsement approach, also known as “condorsement,” in which each new standard is approved one at a time and incorporated in U.S. GAAP, as opposed to the so-called “big bang” approach of adopting IFRS wholesale (see SEC Releases Work Plan for How IFRS Transition Might Work).

Meanwhile the Financial Accounting Standards Board is continuing the slow work of converging U.S. GAAP with IFRS, focusing on the priority projects under their 2002 Norwalk Agreement of revenue recognition, financial instruments and leasing, along with insurance contracts. But that work has been dragging on for a decade now, with the timeline repeatedly extended, and many significant points of disagreement remain.

The SEC commissioners may prefer to wait until after the November election before deciding to take the plunge of allowing U.S. companies to use IFRS. Foreign companies are already permitted to file their financial statements with the SEC in IFRS without first reconciling them with U.S. GAAP. The American Institute of CPAs would like to see the SEC allow U.S.-based corporations to do the same thing, but it is not clear that the SEC commissioners are ready to agree.

The recent announcement that SEC chief accountant James Kroeker is stepping down in July may signal the fact that the SEC staff’s hard work on documents such as the upcoming paper is coming to an end (see Kroeker to Leave SEC in July). That leaves the ball in the SEC commissioners’ court, particularly with SEC chair Mary Schapiro, who has seemed skeptical of IFRS ever since she succeeded former chair Christopher Cox.

Chances are the SEC will at least issue another statement supporting a single set of global accounting standards before the end of the year, as it has already done in the past. But whether or not it will vote to support IFRS use by U.S. companies remains to be seen. Perhaps Hoogervorst has some special insights into the commissioners’ thinking now, but he has said in the past that he is awaiting their decision just like everyone else.

Michel Prada, chairman of the IFRS Foundation, which oversees the IASB, seemed less certain in a speech in Frankfurt, Germany, on Wednesday. "One of the most anticipated decisions is whether and how the United States will incorporate IFRS into its own financial reporting regime," he said. "The IASB and the FASB have spent 10 years since the Norwalk agreement laying the groundwork for this decision through a dedicated and fruitful effort of convergence. Recognizing this work, in 2007, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission permitted foreign companies with a U.S. listing to report using IFRS and began to consult on the possibility of also adopting IFRS for domestic companies. Today, the SEC oversees more than 100 companies listed on U.S. markets that report using IFRS. We await with interest the SEC’s final staff report on a pathway towards IFRS adoption and look forward to a positive outcome to the SEC’s deliberations."

Hoogervorst reportedly acknowledged the difficulties facing the SEC commissioners in his speech Tuesday, noting that it was a "tricky political question" to vote to make the transition to IFRS in an election year. As a former Dutch finance minister, he must have few illusions about political realities. However, he warned about "chagrin in the rest of the world" if the U.S. fails to move ahead with IFRS after all the work on convergence. He noted that U.S. influence on the future direction of IFRS could only continue if it demonstrates that it is "fully on board."

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