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John Carney comments on Sheila Bair’s bellyaching about mark-to-market today by simply wondering why there has to be a debate at all. That is, couldn’t accounting rules just be served up – presumably buffet style – and the banks would choose which treatment they like best and then regulators could judge their health based on their choices:
Here’s what I don’t get: why do we need one set of accounting standards at all? To put it differently, why should banking regulators feel obliged to judge the safety and soundness of financial institutions according to any measure that they do not like? If Bair doesn’t think fair value is appropriate to the banking sector, can’t she just ignore fair value when judging whether banks satisfy regulatory requirements?
It’s an interesting question. Why does the FDIC care what fair value says when determining bank health? Analysts use and refer to non-GAAP data all the time, so what difference does it make if regulators rationalize their analysis on similar non-GAAP measures?
After explaining that, despite the complaints of a certain billionaire (among others), transparency is actually a good thing, Carney floats an idea:
My truly radical proposal is that we should probably do away with this argument altogether by allowing banks—and every other company for that matter—to choose which accounting standards they want to use. If amortized cost is truly a better standard, banks using that will surely be rewarded by higher stock prices and cheaper access to credit. On the other hand, if fair value is appropriate, the market will reward that. Why not let banks choose and bear the costs of their choice?
While we’re with John in spirit (especially for the banks, they run things after all), the BSDs in the accounting will never let this fly. The idea of letting individual companies determine what accounting rules to follow is enough to cause Big 4 partners to set themselves on fire in the middle of Union Square in protest.
However, if you’ve got thoughts on we could put this thing in motion, it might be kind of fun to see how it works out.
Accounting News Roundup: Ernst & Young Settles with HealthSouth Bondholders; SEC Accountant Tried to Access Porn 16,000 Times in a Month; The Best Accounting Rules Won’t Fix Everything | 04.23.10
UBS to Pay $217 Million to Settle HealthSouth Case [Bloomberg BusinessWeek]
After the better part of a decade, Ernst & Young has finally settled with the bondholders of inpatient service provider HealthSouth. Bloomberg is reporting that the firm agreed to pay the Company’s bondholders $33.5 million after settling with shareholders last year for $109 million. HealthSouths’ investment bank, UBS settled with shareholders and bondholders for $117 million and $100 million respectively.
The $2.7 billion fraud resulted in guilty pleas from 15 executives, including five former CFOs but an acquittal of CEO Richard Scrushy. Scrushy managed to wind up in prison on bribery charges instead and is currently serving 6 years and 10 months. As is typical in these matters, both UBS and E&Y ponied up yet denied any wrongdoing.
GOP ramps up attacks on SEC over porn surfing [AP]
The official SEC porn report has been leaked and some interesting things that are new include:
• One guy had so much porn on his computer that he had to bring in CDs and DVDs to help expand the collection. He thought it wise to keep these at the office.
• “An accountant” was blocked from accessing sites 16,000 times yet still amassed a “collection of ‘very graphic’ material on his hard drive by using Google images to bypass the SEC’s internal filter.” He refused to ” testify in his defense” and was suspended for fourteen days.
• Seventeen employees were “at a senior level” with the highest salary reported over $222k.
Darrell Issa (R-CA) is not amused by this porn bonanza, saying, “[it is] disturbing that high-ranking officials within the SEC were spending more time looking at porn than taking action to help stave off the events that put our nation’s economy on the brink of collapse,” according to the AP. Based on this response, it wouldn’t be surprising to find Issa ensnarled in a porn scandal of his own before this year’s election.
Best accounting rules are not enough [FT]
A reader responded to the epic article published by the Financial Times, raising the notion that “one set of high quality accounting standards” will not solve the world’s problems.
Those who prepare and use accounts very often have a different perspective on accounting questions from accountants as such, whether or not they have had an accounting qualification in the past…
[T]he report on Lehman explicitly did not address the question of accounting arbitrage. This was because Lehman used an accounting rule to disguise from the markets the weaknesses in the balance sheet in a way which, as the examiner reported, was invalid even if the rule itself was completely valid in all jurisdictions.
This points to the fact that the best accounting rules possible are not enough – the financial reporting chain has other links: corporate governance, auditing and regulation.
God forbid I go so far as to say this whole convergence thing is a conspiracy but it’s starting to reek like a bad Saturday morning cartoon plot. First the evil leaders start scamming for world domination, then they form shady alliances in darkened lairs and eventually the population gets sold into slavery until the hero comes and drops the villains in a vat of acid. Or something like that. If global financial “reform” were a Saturday morning cartoon, we’d be horribly overrun with villains and in desperate need of a hero.
Since it’s real life, all we can do is watch.
A spokesman for IASB said the two boards are expected to issue their first joint quarterly progress report very soon. A spokesman for FASB said the various project updates posted by the two boards demonstrates “quite a bit of progress” in recent months.
“We remain committed to working with IASB,” said spokesman Chris Klimek. “(We) appreciate the SEC’s leadership and additional guidance on this important matter, and like everyone, we will be studying the work plan carefully in the days ahead and discussing what it means for us.”
It’s cool! There’s a plan for convergence and here it goes: the SEC waits around for the FASB and IASB to figure out how to convert GAAP statement to IFRS without costing American companies billions ($35 million/year x companies converting = well you get it). Eventually, they might just figure this out. In the meantime, kick back and don’t get too worked up over it, the two bodies are still battling it out because of the same cultural barriers that have always stood in the way of a true marriage of FASB/IASB positions.
As Number Insights pointed out in 2007 (see how long we’ve been trying to do this? And what do we have to show for it?), a single set of principles might not be the bad part of this entire plan. GAAP is notoriously constrictive but principles-based accounting requires qualified accountants and I’m not sure our accountants are quite ready either, ignoring the costs associated. And a world without FASB? I can’t imagine it.
It doesn’t look like I’ll have to any time soon.
Yes, yes. There’s plenty of iPad talk going on out there but we’ll resist the urge and focus on the numbers here.
Ron Fink wrote back in September about concerns over new accounting rules for revenue recognition doing little more than providing more areas of confusion for investors.
Under the new rules, companies can book revenue based on estimated sales prices for all the components of “bundled deliverables” all at once instead of on their current fair value. The expectation is that the rule will boost upfront earnings for tech companies whose products combine hardware and software.
Well, on Monday night, Apple made its first quarterly earnings report under the new rules and they certainly gave the tech darling a boost, but it’s unclear whether it will ultimately confuse investors. Indeed, they were likely distracted by Apple raking in $3.4 billion in net income for the quarter ended Dec. 26, up 50 percent from a year earlier.
Apple went to great lengths to explain the effect of the rules on its financial statements. The company revised its financial statements for each quarter from fiscal 2007 through fiscal 2009, the period it’s been selling both the iPhone and Apple TV, which it had previously used subscription accounting for because it periodically provides free software upgrades and features for them.
Under subscription accounting, revenue and associated product cost of sales for iPhone and Apple TV were deferred at the time of sale and recognized on a straight-line basis over each product’s estimated economic life of 24 months. This resulted in the deferral of significant amounts of revenue and cost of sales related to iPhone and Apple TV. The changes had the effect of slimming the company’s balance sheet considerably. Assets at the end of its fiscal year 2009 were reduced by $6.4 billion and liabilities were cut by $10.2 billion, giving a $3.8 billion boost to shareholders’ equity.
And in reconciling its first quarter 2009 to the new accounting standard, Apple showed net sales got a nearly 17 percent boost, while its cost of sales went up just 11 percent. That had the effect of stretching gross margins from 34.7 percent to 37.9 percent.
Apple, which wasn’t required to adopt the new rule until the first quarter of its fiscal 2011, certainly is not objecting to the change. In its earnings conference call Monday, CFO Peter Oppenheimer said, “We are very pleased by the FASB ratification of the new accounting principles as we believe they will better enable us to reflect the underlying economics and performance of our business and therefore we will no longer be providing non-GAAP financial measures.”