Worldwide accounting diversity
Considerable differences exist across countries in the accounting treatment of many items. These differences can result in significantly different amounts being reported in the financial statements prepared by companies using different GAAP.
A variety of factors influence a country’s accounting system. A.
Legal system – in code law countries, accounting rules tend to be legislated; common law countries tend to have a non-legislative organization that develops accounting standards. B.
Taxation – financial statements serve as the basis for taxation in many countries. In those countries with a close linkage between accounting and taxation, accounting practice tends to be more conservative so as to reduce the amount of income subject to taxation. C.
Providers of financing – in those countries in which family members, banks, and the government are the major providers of business finance, there tends to be less demand for public accountability and information disclosure. In countries where shareholders are a major provider of financing, the demand for information made available outside the company becomes greater. D.
Inflation – countries with chronic high inflation adopt accounting principles in which traditional historical cost accounting is abandoned in favor of inflation adjusted figures. E.
Political and economic ties – through previous colonization, a British style of accounting is used throughout most of the former British Empire. Ties between countries also help to explain similarities between the U.S. and Canada, and increasingly, the U.S. and Mexico.
Differences in accounting across countries cause several problems. A.
Consolidating foreign subsidiaries requires that the financial statements prepared in accordance with foreign accounting rules must be converted into parent company GAAP. B.
Companies interested in obtaining capital in foreign countries may be required to provide financial statements prepared in accordance with accounting rules in that country, which are likely to differ from rules in the home country. C.
Investors interested in investing in foreign companies may have a difficult time in making comparisons across potential investments because of differences in accounting rules across countries. D.
There is a lack of quality accounting standards in some parts of the world. The 1997 East Asian financial crisis was at least partially attributable to a lack of high quality accounting in the region.
There are two major classes of accounting systems, the micro-based class and the macro-uniform class. A.
The micro-based class of accounting is found in common law countries, where there is a separation of accounting from taxation, and shareholders are an important source of financing. Information is developed primarily for equity investors, with adequate disclosure serving as a major objective. B.
The macro-uniform class exists in code law countries, where accounting serves as the basis for taxation, and families, banks and government are the major providers of capital. Income measurement is more conservative and disclosure is lower than in the micro-based class of countries.
National culture is another factor long thought to influence a country’s accounting system.
Using Hofstede’s (1980) societal value dimensions, Gray (1988) developed the following hypotheses: A.
Conservatism hypothesis – countries high on uncertainty avoidance and long-term orientation, and low on individualism and masculinity will foster a more conservative approach to measurement. B.
Secrecy hypothesis – countries high in power distance, uncertainty avoidance, and long-term orientation, and low on individualism and masculinity will exhibit more secrecy (less disclosures) in accounting reports. C.
Research results provide some support for these hypotheses, especially the...
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