The adoption of International Financial Reporting Standards in the U.S. looks to be increasingly in doubt.
The backlash against IFRS seems to be picking up steam as the new SEC Chairman, Mary Schapiro, has voiced misgivings about both the roadmap and the governance of the International Accounting Standards Board. “When it comes to international accounting standards, it’s critical that these standards are converged in a way that does not kick off a race to the bottom,” she wrote in January to congressional leaders after her confirmation hearings (see New SEC Chair Has Doubts about IASB). “American investors deserve and expect high standards of financial reporting, transparency and disclosure - along with a standard-setter that is free from political interference and that has the resources to be a strong watchdog. At this time, it is not apparent that the IASB meets those criteria, and I am not prepared to delegate standard-setting or oversight responsibility to the IASB.”
Among the prominent critics of IFRS is former SEC Chief Accountant Lynn Turner, who blasted the IASB and IFRS at a forum last week sponsored by Pace University’s Lubin School of Business at Ernst & Young’s offices in New York (see SEC Pressured on Chief Accountant Pick). “Chairman Schapiro got questions on this and she said IFRS is not ready for prime time,” he said. “The IASB should be reconstituted,” he added. “The Council of Individual Investors has said this is not a body that can set standards free of political interference.”
However, another more recent former SEC chief accountant who spoke at the same event, Conrad Hewitt, voiced his support for IFRS. “A large number of U.S. companies do more than 50 percent of their business overseas,” he pointed out. “It’s very important to get to one high-quality standard.”
Turner disputed the idea that over 100 countries have adopted or are on the way to adopting IFRS, noting that there are regional differences in France and other parts of the world. “The notion that we have IFRS worldwide is a fiction,” he said.
Turner criticized the way the IASB caved in to pressure last year from French President Nicolas Sarkozy to change some of the standards for how banks could value their assets. IASB Chairman Sir David Tweedie has said he came close to resigning at the time. However, Hewitt noted that politicians in the U.S. also have exerted pressure on accounting regulators in the U.S., particularly on fair value accounting. “We had the same problem with people from the Hill pressuring us to suspend [FAS] 157,” he said. “I refused to do it.”
The SEC and the Financial Accounting Standards Board are going to come under pressure again on Thursday as the House Financial Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Capital Markets, Insurance and Government-Sponsored Enterprises holds a hearing on mark-to-market accounting. IFRS isn’t the subject of the hearing, but don’t be surprised if it comes up.
Meanwhile leaders of FASB and other international accounting regulators have been hashing out their differences in a series of meetings of the Financial Crisis Advisory Group, including a meeting in New York last week. The discussion grew quite heated at times, judging by the webcast, especially as the participants debated questions about fair value measurement. It isn’t clear if the sticky subject of asset valuations is going to be one of the main factors gumming up the convergence of U.S. and international accounting standards, but it’s clearly putting some detours on the roadmap.
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