A spokeswoman for the I.F.R.S. Foundation, Kirstina Reitan, said its members disagree with Mr. Rosen’s take. “The success of accounting standards depends on companies applying them properly and exercising sound judgment,” she said in an emailed statement. “Both U.S. G.A.A.P. and I.F.R.S. are high-quality standards, and one is not more prone to abuse than the other.”
Still, the differences between the two standards can be significant. Consider, for example, the approach taken to recognizing revenue under the international standards.
Under these rules, companies can record revenues based on only a 50.001 percent probability of eventually collecting the money — something Mr. Rosen calls the “more-likely-than-not rule.” By contrast, under American guidelines, managers must have a reasonable assurance that they will generate the revenues before they can record them; companies generally interpret this as 70 percent to 80 percent certainty, he said.
Valuing assets is another problem with international standards, Mr. Rosen said. Under the generally accepted accounting principles used in Canada before 2011, a company would have to complete the sale of a property or building before recording the results of the transaction for financial reporting purposes.
Because the international standards instead focus on current value accounting, executives have much more freedom to assign value to assets that may or may not be real.
Mr. Rosen presents a hypothetical example in his book. Say a company owns a building that may sell for $10 million. But based on medium-term contracts, the company’s managers assess the building’s current value at $18 million. In Canada, the managers can use the higher figure in the company’s financial statements.
What can these differences mean to a particular company? In “Easy Prey Investors,” Mr. Rosen presents a side-by-side example of one public company’s 2011 financial results based on the previously applicable generally accepted accounting principles and the new international standards. The company, which owned rental properties, showed a $4 million loss under G.A.A.P. and an $82 million profit under the international standards.
“Many Canadian-traded stocks are trying to appear more financially adequate by utilizing the massive holes in I.F.R.S.,” Mr. Rosen wrote in his book. He calls financial reporting in Canada right now “the calm before the storm.”
The Toronto Stock Exchange index is up 6 percent over the past 52 weeks. Although that pales next to the Standard & Poor’s 500 return, it is nonetheless respectable.
Seems as good a time as any to heed a warning from an experienced investigator like Mr. Rosen.