Accounting ‘Dumping Ground’ Headed For Clean Up
International accounting rulemakers may focus on cleaning up rules for “other comprehensive income,” a category in a company’s earnings statement that can obscure the true profit and loss picture, the chairman of the International Accounting Standards Board said this week.
The board may restart its efforts to improve financial statement presentation guidance in this area and bring more “discipline” to the way companies decide what is classified as profit and loss or other comprehensive income, IASB Chairman Hans Hoogervorst said in a speech in Tokyo.
More than 100 countries use International Financial Reporting Standards, which are set by the IASB. The U.S. does not use them for domestic companies, but allows foreign companies to file their results with U.S. regulators under these standards. U.S. multinational companies often have to use these standards for foreign subsidiaries.
Other comprehensive income, which includes items initially excluded from net income in a particular accounting period, has gotten a reputation as a sort of dumping ground where companies are allowed store information that would be too damaging to earnings.
For example, he said passing employee benefit expenses through other comprehensive income, rather than earnings, has dis-incentivized companies from dealing with large liabilities head-on.
“In the last decade, some big American car manufacturers and airline companies were brought to their knees by employee benefits that had been building up over the years,” Mr. Hoogervorst explained. Such liabilities may not have been taken as seriously because they were in other comprehensive income, he said.
The other comprehensive income figure is crucial because it can distort common valuation techniques used by investors, such as the price-to-earnings ratio. If the profit and loss statement and earnings are the primary indicators of a company’s performance, they need “to be robust and tinker-free,” Mr. Hoogervorst said.
Mr. Hoogervorst said he’d been approached by Japanese accounting stakeholders about improving and clarifying other rules, as well as differences of opinion from other countries, such as Canada.
In an interview with CFO Journal, Dr. Nigel Sleigh-Johnson, head of financial reporting for the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales said Thursday, “At the moment there is no clear and consistent basis for,” other comprehensive income.
Accounting rulemakers should try to make it easier for companies to decide what items need to be recognized in profit and what has to go into other comprehensive income, he said.
The U.S. Financial Accounting Standards Board has also been working to clarify rules for other comprehensive income in the past few years and make the rules more transparent to investors. The board issued new guidance on how companies should present the figures in 2011 and updated accounting standards on items reclassified out of accumulated other comprehensive income last February.
Article by Emily Chasan, at the Wall Street Journal