The major difference between IAS and US GAAP is that US GAAP requires that assets/properties be recorded based upon their historical costs. IAS requires the initial recording based upon costs but allow revaluation of assets using their fair values in future years. Revaluation of assets/properties could lead to significant differences between US GAAP and IAS financial statements, especially in hyper-inflation and high-inflation economies. Another difference is in accounting for business combinations. US GAAP no longer allow the usage of pooling of interests method but this method can be used under IAS. There are also a number of similarities between US GAAP and IAS. For example, valuation of inventories, goodwill and intangible assets, leases, employee benefits, discontinued operations, extraordinary items, etc. are recorded similarly under both US GAAP and IAS.
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Overall, there are some differences between US GAAP and IAS which would cause different amounts of incomes and assets reported under the two accounting standards. IAS are relatively new and have just focused on the core accounting standards. US GAAP, on the other hand, have been providing accounting standards for a very long time and are based upon a great deal of debate and research among academics, practitioners, business community, etc. The IAS limitations are obvious from the fact that there are only 41 standards and more standards need to be developed to cover variety of transactions. US GAAP have issued 147 standards and continue to focus on evolving issues to provide additional standards as needed.
The story begins with the final meeting of the Allied leaders at the end of World War II in the Potsdam suburb of Berlin in 1945. Yergin and Stanislaw claim that the Potsdam meeting was the defining point for the economic and political structures that were to give nation-states control over the commanding heights of their economies for the next thirty years.
Judging by the sheer volume of authoritative accounting literature, United States accounting standards are the most detailed accounting standards in the world. A crude but perhaps effective way to compare the volume of U.S. accounting standards and international and British accounting standards is to place those standards next to each other and compare their thickness. The three paperback tomes of FASB original pronouncements plus the paperback version of FASB Emerging Issues Task Force consensuses measure just over seven inches thick. In comparison, International Accounting Standards and interpretations fit into just one book, two inches thick, which is smaller in format than the FASB pronouncements and printed in a larger font. And the United Kingdom’s accounting standards and proposed accounting standards fit into one book, two and a half inches thick, the same format as FASB standards but printed in a larger font.
The sheer volume of authoritative U.S. accounting literature is an impediment to the convergence of U.S. GAAP and IASB standards. Because IASB standards contain less-detailed guidance than U.S. GAAP, they allow for greater latitude in interpretation by those applying the standards. One could hardly call two sets of standards that allow so much difference in interpretation “converged.” But the IASB could not produce the volume of literature that exists in the United States any time soon, assuming that it wanted to do so. Perhaps the IASB never will be able to catch up if the FASB, with its greater resources, continues to produce guidance as fast as it can. And the IASB would prefer not to issue the volume of authoritative literature that exists in the United States, as the IASB standards are translated into about 20 languages, and more detailed standards slow down the process and increase the potential for differences in translations.
The US GAAP require that the properties, plant, and equipment be recorded in the financial statements based upon their historical costs and allow permanent decrease in the value to be expensed. IAS require the initial recording based upon actual costs but allow revaluation of assets using their fair values in future years. Valuation of assets based upon their fair values has been debated in US and foreign countries for a long time. The proponents argue that fair values provide updated information which can be used for analyzing financial statements and making decisions whereas historical values are relatively less relevant. However, critics argue that it is difficult to determine fair values unless assets are actually sold in the market. The valuation process, critics further argue, is a result of subjective judgments made by appraisers and do not provide objective “hard numbers” as is the case with historical values. Moreover, there is room for manipulation of fair values because of subjective judgments made but historical values are not open to such manipulation. Overall, historical values appear to be more reliable because they provide us with actual costs incurred to acquire assets.
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