IFRS in the US – no news is, well, just no news

Almost Zero Chance of SEC Accepting Global Accounting Rules announces the headline of a recent article on Bloomberg BNA.

Here’s what it has to say on that:

  • “The Securities and Exchange Commission isn’t showing any movement toward acceptance of international accounting standards for financial reporting by U.S. public companies, the chairman of the International Accounting Standards Board told Bloomberg BNA.
  • “I don’t think we can expect any news from that front,” Hans Hoogervorst said in a brief interview in London Sept. 27.
  • He also suggested that a number of large U.S. companies that had been preparing for a shift to the IASB’s international financial reporting standards changed course because the idea of the SEC embracing IFRS was “politically dead.”
  • “Why would they go on thinking about it?” Hoogervorst asked. Ford Motor Co. was one such company, according to sources who follow international accounting issues.
  • The SEC has stated its commitment to moving to a single set of a high-quality accounting standards suitable for global use to aid in cross-border capital raising.
  • However, the road to convergence of IFRS and U.S. generally accepted accounting principles has been rocky. What was once considered likely some six years ago—U.S. adoption of the international rules —now seems highly improbable in the near term, even in a more modest voluntary, disclosure-only form to accompany filings under U.S. generally accepted accounting principles.”

One general measure of how the energy here has withered away comes simply from Googling the SEC in conjunction with IFRS – there’s little of interest to be found in 2016. Just about the last notable landmark came in February, when Thomson Reuters quoted SEC Chief Accountant James Schnurr in the following terms:

  • “Speaking at the SEC Speaks conference hosted by the Practising Law Institute (PLI) in Washington, he said the proposal that his office has been working on will have two aspects.
  • “First one, it would not be a proposal but a statement by the commission around supporting the objective of a single set of global standards,” Schnurr said. “It would make clear that, certainly for the foreseeable future, the U.S. would not be allowing domestic issuers to file financial statements under IFRS. But it’s very important for the two boards, the IASB and the FASB, to continue to work together to try to have further convergence down the road. The objective ultimately would be a single set of standards.”
  • Schnurr later told Accounting & Compliance Alert the statement will be a preamble to a proposed rule to let U.S. public companies voluntarily provide IFRS information as a supplement to their U.S. GAAP financial statements.”

It’s hard to see that anything came of this effort, but anyway, it doesn’t seem it would have amounted to much.

I’ve noted before that when I started my first IFRS blog – around 2008, in the thick of the Canadian transition process – the debate about adopting IFRS in the US was active and often heated, prompting a constant stream of online ranting. I once quoted Professor David Albrecht, a particularly active figure in the field, as follows: “As I blogged yesterday, any nation that cedes control over some aspect of its economy to an extra-national body is incredibly stupid. Today I add that it is brainless, dazed, deficient, dense, dim, doltish, dopey, dull, dumb, foolish, futile, gullible, half-baked, half-witted, idiotic, ill-advised, imbecilic, inane, indiscreet, insensate, irrelevant, laughable, ludicrous, meaningless, mindless, moronic, naive, nonsensical, obtuse, out to lunch, pointless, puerile, rash, senseless, shortsighted, simple, simpleminded, slow, sluggish, stolid, stupefied, thick, thick-headed, trivial, unintelligent, unthinking, and witless (synonyms supplied by thesaurus.com).” On another occasion, Albrecht linked to an Accountancy Age article reporting “the evidence is mounting that a number of governments believe that switching to the global guidelines may have been too hasty,” and was thus inspired to ask: “IFRS, IFRS, whither are thou? Art thou the coming of a single set of global accounting standards? Or art thou languishing in a coffin, relegated to the dustbin of history?”

I pointed out at the time that if this was a coffin merely placed inside a dustbin, as it appears, then any able vampire could escape from that as soon as the sun went down! And so it did – IFRS outside the US may not yet be all-conquering, but it hardly seems to be tottering. Certainly not as much as the blogs of Albrecht and others which, deprived of the motivational fuel of a potentially imminent IFRS invasion, have all but embraced their own coffins/dustbins.

So IFRS lives, but not entirely the life it dreamed of. As in Hoogervorst’s reference to being “politically dead,” there’s often a sense that American aversion to the international project is based in self-defeating over-calculation, rooted in the weird neurosis that seems to affect the US approach to most other major questions. Maybe indeed it’s largely spite, a Trumpian raised finger to the world. But it seems to me more reasonable to conclude that US users and preparers rationally (from their perspective anyway) assessed the purported benefits of adopting IFRS as an abstract game that wouldn’t be worth the economic candle. Given the immense complexity of our capital markets, and the preeminent importance of collectively navigating through them, it seems important at some point to move past overblown assertions of IFRS’s value, and to develop a better-informed understanding of what it reasonably delivers, and what it doesn’t. Perhaps the US has something to tell us on that at least.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author


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