On June 10, 2014, The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (“PCAOB”) adopted new and amended auditing standards that expand audit procedures required to be performed with respect to three important areas: (1) related party transactions; (2) significant unusual transactions; and (3) a company’s financial relationships and transactions with its executive officers. The standards also expand the required communications that an auditor must make to the audit committee related to these three areas. They also amend the standard governing representations that the auditor is required to periodically obtain from management.
Posts Tagged ‘Accounting standards’
The modern quest for an “Esperanto” of business has been underway for nearly half a century. And though it was initiated by the United States, after 48 years, it has yet to gain our full support. That is unfortunate, because the promise of a global standard is truly dazzling.
An international language of disclosure and transparency would significantly improve investor confidence in global capital markets. Investors could more easily compare issuers’ disclosures, regardless of what country they came from. They could more easily weigh investment opportunities in their own countries against competing opportunities in other markets. And a single set of high-quality standards would be a great boon to emerging markets, because investors could have greater confidence in the transparency of financial reporting.
The US is the last major economy that has not yet adopted International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) while, from Europe to Canada, from Australia to China, around 120 countries are already requiring or permitting IFRS; this figure will likely rise to 150 countries in the near future. The introduction of IFRS has been debated in the United States for several years. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) first issued a paper that includes a plan for possible implementation, and several SEC Staff Reports followed up until the July 2012 Final Staff Report with regard to the work plan. However, whether domestic issuers should be permitted to use IFRS is still very controversial.
The proposed enhancements to the auditor’s reporting model would be the first change to the standards in more than 70 years. Furthermore, they could significantly impact the content and format of auditors’ reports; the treatment of that information by investors and other users of financial statements; and the relationship and structure of interactions among management, audit committees and auditors as they have developed since the enactment of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002.
“One of our goals is to see that the SEC’s enforcement program is—and is perceived to be—everywhere, pursuing all types of violations of our federal securities laws, big and small.”
— Mary Jo White, Chair of the SEC, October 9, 2013
“In the end, our view is that we will not know whether there has been an overall reduction in accounting fraud until we devote the resources to find out, which is what we are doing.”
— Andrew Ceresney, Co-Director of the SEC Division of Enforcement, September 19, 2013
“The SEC is ‘Bringin’ Sexy Back’ to Accounting Investigations”
— New York Times, June 3, 2013
Much has changed since the collapse of Enron in 2001 and the ensuing avalanche of financial fraud cases brought by the SEC. For example, Sarbanes-Oxley raised auditing standards, imposed certification requirements on public company officers and required enhanced internal controls for public companies. The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) was formed “to oversee the audits of public companies in order to protect the interests of investors and further the public interest in the preparation of informative, accurate and independent audit
reports.”  In pursuit of that goal, the PCAOB has conducted hundreds of audit firm inspections, adopted numerous auditing standards and brought dozens of enforcement actions against auditors for violating PCAOB rules and auditing standards.
Many academic researchers, policy makers, and other practitioners have concluded that fair value accounting can lead to suboptimal real decisions by firms, particularly financial institutions, and result in negative consequences for the financial system. This conclusion is sustained by the belief that fair value accounting was a major factor contributing to the 2008-2009 financial crisis by causing financial institutions to recognize excessive losses, which in turn caused excessive sales of assets and repayment of debt, thereby leading to procyclical accounting leverage. Leverage is procyclical when it decreases during economic downturns and increases during economic upturns. In our paper, Does Fair Value Accounting Contribute to Procyclical Leverage?, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we examine whether there exists any link between fair value accounting and procyclical accounting leverage.
To address this question, we develop a model of commercial bank actions taken in response to economic gains and losses on their assets throughout the economic cycle to meet regulatory leverage requirements. We focus on commercial banks because of the central role they play in the financial system and the allegation that their actions in response to fair value losses contributed to the financial crisis. Our model and empirical tests based on the model establish that procyclical accounting leverage for commercial banks only arises because of differences between regulatory and accounting leverage, and not because of fair value accounting.
Measurement concepts in financial reporting are sorely needed. A key role of accounting is to depict economic phenomena in numbers, i.e., to develop measurements to report in financial statements. It is shameful that neither is there a conceptual definition of accounting measurement nor are there concepts guiding standard setters’ choice of measurement base. The Framework has a glaring hole until these concepts are developed. In the paper, Measurement in Financial Reporting: The Need for Concepts, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, I offer a starting point for developing such concepts by focusing on how the objective of financial reporting, qualitative characteristics of useful financial information, and the asset and liability definitions can be applied to measurement. The Framework should be a coherent whole and, thus, any measurement concepts should flow from, be consistent with, and embody these concepts.
To date the focus of measurement in standard setting has been on individual assets and liabilities, and the lack of concepts for these measurements is obvious. However, aggregate amounts are also fundamental to financial reporting—financial reports include key aggregate amounts such as total assets, total liabilities, and net income. Changes in measurements of assets and liabilities during the reporting period also are fundamental because they determine items of income and expense as well as comprehensive income itself. Thus, if financial reports are to achieve their objective, measurement concepts need to deal with aggregate amounts and changes in measurements, as well as the implications of the measurements for the information revealed in a set of financial statements taken together.
Today, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (“PCAOB”) proposed for public comment two audit standards that, if adopted, would significantly change the audit report model, and dramatically expand the auditor’s responsibilities in reporting on management’s disclosures outside the financial statements. PCAOB Chairman Doty remarked that the proposed standards—running to almost 300 pages—mark a “watershed moment” for auditing in the United States.
The first proposal—The Auditor’s Report on an Audit of Financial Statements—moves well beyond the traditional audit report and would require the following additional statements:
In January 2012, the Financial Accounting Standards Board decided by a narrow margin of 4-3 not to require management to perform an assessment of the entity’s ability to continue as a going concern. By May 2012, the FASB reconsidered this requirement and in June 2013 issued an exposure draft that mandates going concern disclosures as part of the financial report. Proponents of this requirement contend that more information is needed from management to inform investors and creditors of impending firm failure, particularly given the spate of recent bankruptcies that have occurred seemingly without warning from either the management or the firm’s auditors. Opponents contend, among other reasons, that managers already disclose sufficient information in their MD&A voluntarily. As such, their view is that an additional disclosure mandate would be an unnecessary imposition on management. In our paper, MD&A Disclosure and the Firm’s Ability to Continue as a Going Concern, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we directly inform this debate by assessing whether, to what extent, and when existing disclosures in a firm’s MD&A inform about a firm’s ability to continue as a going concern.
Multinational firms can avoid taxes through structured transactions among different jurisdictions (e.g., Rego 2003), such as reallocating taxable income from high-tax jurisdictions to low-tax ones (Collins et al. 1998). This type of income shifting significantly reduces tax revenues of governments in high-tax jurisdictions and potentially hinders domestic economic growth and other social benefits (e.g., GAO 2008; U.S. Senate 2006). Policy makers around the world, including the United States, European Union, and Canada, have either enacted or are considering regulations related to multinational firms’ cross-jurisdictional income shifting and tax avoidance behavior. However, relatively little is known about multinational corporate tax avoidance behavior (Hanlon and Heitzman 2010), though such knowledge provides a basis for making and enforcing related rules. Further, the relation between firms’ tax avoidance and financial disclosures is not well established. In our paper, Tax Avoidance and Geographic Earnings Disclosure, forthcoming in the Journal of Accounting and Economics, we investigate how geographic earnings disclosure in firms’ financial reports relates to multinational firms’ tax avoidance behavior.