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SEC May Become Citizen of the World

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International accounting rules may be required by 2014.

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The Securities and Exchange Commission may require some US companies to switch to international accounting rules by 2014.

The SEC says the change will make American companies more competitive in the global economy and reduce costs.

Under what the commission calls a "road map," adopted Wednesday, about 110 companies might adopt the international rules earlier than 2014.

A survey completed earlier this year by Protiviti, a provider of risk consulting and internal audit services, found that most companies have made no or limited preparations for the transition to the new accounting standard.

"If the SEC ultimately approves the adoption of IFRS, the transition is expected to lead to significant issues for affected companies as they adopt the processes and technology necessary to provide new and different information to drive financial reporting," says Chris Wright, a managing director for Protiviti in New York.

Previously, PriceWaterhouseCoopers said the change to International Financial Reporting Standards from Generally Accepted Accounting Principles is more than a technical issue.

"(IFRS) will be beneficial for a number of reasons," PriceWaterhouseCoopers said in a report. "It would promote the global competitiveness of U.S. companies, strengthen U.S. capital markets, facilitate the management of U.S.-based global companies, achieve significant cost savings and process efficiencies, and overcome the burdensome complexity of today's U.S. accounting and reporting."

PriceWaterhouseCoopers said need for adoption of the International Financial Reporting Standards is driven by:

Globalization: Worldwide business and finance has led to the successful adoption of IFRS by about 12,000 companies in about 100 nations. The United States is the largest of the few remaining holdouts.

Current complexity: Existing U.S. standards are often complex and hard to follow. International Financial Reporting Standards provide a simplified set of standards.

Merging Difficulties: Efforts to merge GAAP standards with IFRS are underway, but it may be impossible to reconcile the different standards. Continued efforts to do so may create additional confusion.

Cost efficiencies: The new IFRS standard will create cost efficiencies for global companies.

But Luzi Hail, an accounting professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, questions the premise that mandating the adopting of new accounting standards makes corporate reporting more informative or more comparable.

His study, with co-authors Holger Daske from the University of Mannheim, Christian Leuz from the University of Chicago and Rodrigo Verdi from MIT, is titled "Mandatory IFRS Reporting Around the World: Early Evidence on Economic Consequences." The abstract can be found here.
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