* Global accounting chief downplays costs of U.S. switch
* U.S. to become just one of many players in shaping rules
* No decision on global accounting expected soon
By Dena Aubin
NEW YORK, Jan 10 The costs of delaying a move by
the United States to international accounting standards are
probably higher than the costs of a switch, the head of a global
accounting rules body warned on Thursday.
By not committing to international standards, the United
States also may become just one of many players in shaping
accounting rules, instead of a driving force, Hans Hoogervorst,
chairman of the International Accounting Standards Board,
The London-based IASB has been working for a decade with
U.S. rule-makers to "converge," or bring their accounting
standards closer together.
The IASB sets international financial reporting standards,
or IFRS, used in over 100 countries. U.S. companies still use
generally accepted accounting principles, or GAAP, set by the
Financial Accounting Standards Board, rather than the global
standard used by other countries.
Hoogervorst said investors are bearing huge costs for the
process of trying to compare and contrast the financial
performance of companies around the world using different
Those costs "are probably a lot bigger than the one-time
conversion cost that an economy has to make when it converts" to
IFRS, he said.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has mulled a
move to international rules for years, but has recently cooled
on making the change. The SEC staff disappointed global
rule-setters last summer by issuing a final report on a switch
to IFRS with no recommendation.
Support for a switch has waned amid concerns about the costs
and worries by some that IFRS allows more management judgment
than highly detailed U.S. accounting rules.
VOLUNTARY ADOPTION PANNED
"I don't see any signs of any imminent decisions in
Washington," Hoogervorst told securities analysts at a
conference in New York.
The IASB wants to continue working with the United States,
but it will be just one of many players at the table, he said.
The IASB in November proposed a new 12-member Accounting
Standards Advisory Forum, expected to become a key source of
input to international rules.
But membership on the board requires a commitment to a
single set of global accounting standards, which would leave out
the United States.
Hoogervorst said the commitment requirement could probably
be changed to something the United States could live with so
that it could be on the board.
FASB has voiced concerns about not meeting requirements to
be on the forum. It has argued that U.S. and international rules
can be brought closer if standard-setters continue to work
Eventually, differences would be so insignificant "that for
all intents and purposes, we have a single set of standards -
sort of like American English and the Queen's English," FASB
Chairman Leslie Seidman said at Thursday's conference.
An interim solution that had been considered at one point -
allowing certain U.S. companies to voluntarily use IFRS - would
"make the system a mess," Seidman said in response to a
Jenifer Minke-Girard, a staff member at the SEC's office of
chief accountant, said some companies had made preparations to
voluntarily switch to IFRS, but the SEC had never reached a
consensus to allow that.