Son of IAS 39
by François Masquelier, Chairman, ATEL
Many treasurers have forgotten that in January 2011 we will celebrate the 10th anniversary of IAS 39. Celebration or funeral? In the last quarter of 2010, the IAS Board is due to publish its new hedge accounting standard. It will be the third and last part of the complete revamp of IAS, which has transformed the life of we corporate treasurers. What has changed since 1 January 2001? It has revolutionised the whole hedging approach of corporates. Another question is whether the overhaul of IAS 39 is a revolution or a simplification.
Fair value in the firing line
The butt of frequent criticism in recent months, fair value has been singled out by shareholders and banks alike as the perfect scapegoat for the financial crisis with which we have been confronted. But we know, of course, that the responsibility lies elsewhere, albeit shared rather than attributable to a single cause. Notwithstanding all the criticism, fair value is actually enshrined in what will be the future standard on financial instruments, the son of IAS 39. Like father like son, as they say, and this proverb might very well apply in this case too.
The new measure's effective date of entry into force will be 1 January 2013, with early adoption possible from the end of 2009.
Despite being divided into three separate phases, this overhaul of IAS 39 in relation to financial instruments is on the right track. The IASB (International Accounting Standards Board) had planned to publish its first and final ED (Exposure Draft) in the first quarter of 2010 (a trilogy-type approach code-named IFRS 9, the first part was published on 12 November 2009 - www.iasb.org/News/). IFRS 9 makes use of a unique approach to establish whether an asset is to be measured in terms of its amortised cost or its fair value, thereby replacing the various rules from IAS 39. The approach adopted by IFRS 9 centres on the manner in which the company manages its financial instruments (its overall business model) and the contractual cash flows which characterise the financial assets. Also opting for a unique method to be used for impairments, the new measure’s effective date of entry into force will be 1 January 2013, with early adoption possible from the end of 2009.
Need for in-depth reform of IAS 39
Pushed by the European Commission to react to international pressure, the IASB had no choice but to agree to undertake a reform of its most controversial accounting standard. Sir David Tweedie acknowledged that it was necessary to rework it in order to tackle this recurring problem once and for all. Regardless of the reform implemented, the one cast-iron certainty is that it will not totally satisfy anyone and will come in for plenty of criticism, an unfortunate fact for which the IAS board is fully prepared.
The three phases cover classification and measurement; dynamic provisioning and hedge accounting. IAS 39 is an accounting monster (we prefer to compare it to a sort of hydra) consisting of nearly 300 pages. According to Philippe Danjou, a French member of the IASB, “Overhauling IAS 39 is akin to renovating the Château of Versailles”. But is this truly an appropriate comparison? Not really, as the classical spirit of this château, albeit adorned with some baroque touches, constitutes the zenith of French art and nobility, with a sun-drenched aspect that, in our humble opinion, has little in common with the IAS 39. We would, however, concur with the view that it amounts to a colossal undertaking. The aim of Sir David and his acolytes was, wherever possible, to simplify the measures taken. The measurement of financial instruments has thus been reduced to two methods (amortised cost and fair value) and the number of classes has also been cut.
Convergence or divergence?
The United States appears to have opted to move towards what is known as ‘full fair value’ for all financial instruments. In doing so, the FASB is deviating from the previous model and from the IASB’s guidelines. Nevertheless, both signed the Norwalk Agreement in 2002 and, as recently as 5 November 2009 reaffirmed their MoU (Memorandum of Understanding). They even voiced the idea of intensifying their efforts in order to rapidly finalise the joint projects that are on the table (target date: June 2011) and reiterated their desire to adopt measures in line with the wishes of the G20.
The aim of the IASB, like that of many parties concerned, is to bring about or at least contribute to the increased stability of the financial markets and systems.
David Wright, a deputy director general of the European Commission’s Internal Market Directorate, has publicly expressed his concern regarding the risk of an absence of convergence between the two main global accounting standards, as neither the IASB nor the Commission intends to converge by simply aligning themselves with the new American model. Listening is one thing and understanding is another, but finding a solution is trickier still when the concessions aspect and pragmatism are often notable by their absence within the IASB. In their defence, however, defining one perfect standard applicable to all is far from straightforward. It is like trying to square a circle as, whatever the board decides, some parties will be left dissatisfied. The fundamental remit and foundations of the IASB are based on the aim of meeting the needs of investors (users) by compelling the companies’ concerned (preparers) to employ greater transparency and care. After all, the aim of the IASB, like that of many parties concerned, is to bring about or at least contribute to the increased stability of the financial markets and systems.