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When $1 Million ≠ $1 Million

Photonics Spectra
Apr 2001
Stephanie A. Weiss

Investors know how hard it is to compare US companies' financial statements, but America's major accounting firms say it's even harder to compare companies across international borders.

The accounting firms Arthur Andersen, BDO, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, Ernst & Young, Grant Thornton, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers compared accounting rules in 53 countries with 60 features of the International Accounting Standards.

Although regulators and accountants worldwide are working to align their rules to the international standards, the survey found that national rules still differ significantly from one another, and almost all allow variations on the international standards.

For example, the survey warns of 20 actual or potential differences between the international and US rules, 16 for UK rules, 35 for German rules and 26 for Japanese rules.

Christopher W. Nobes, an accounting professor at the University of Reading in the UK, cautioned readers in the survey's introduction: "Users of any particular financial information should take great care to understand which accounting rules (national or international) have been applied in preparing the relevant financial statements."

The survey includes only rules that took effect before Dec. 31, 2000 (or March 31, 2001, for Japan), but the introduction notes that several countries have issued standards that weren't mandatory until after that date.

The International Organization of Securities Commissions has recommended that its members allow multinational corporations to use the International Accounting Standards in international offerings. The European Commission proposed that Europe's public companies use these standards for consolidated financial statements by 2005. The US Securities and Exchange Commission is still considering the recommendation.

A summary of the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles survey, including individual findings for all 53 countries surveyed, is available at

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