China’s experience of IFRS convergence makes a convincing case for other economies, says ACCA president Barry Cooper
Given China’s increasing influence in the world, not only as producer but as major consumer, there’s growing interest in how to do business there. I’ve worked in China on and off for over 25 years and have been fascinated to see how it has developed into an economic world power.
With that growth has come some challenges, not least in the US where the Securities and Exchange Commission recently raised questions about the ways in which Chinese companies report their performance. So I was particularly interested to see some research commissioned by ACCA, which has looked at the impact of China’s convergence with International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), and what it has meant for corporate reporting.
The ACCA report, produced independently by Dr Edward Lee and Professor Martin Walker of Manchester University, together with Dr Colin Zeng of the University of Bristol, shows that IFRS convergence has benefitted the Chinese economy, by making accounting earnings more informative and therefore more useful to domestic and international investors.
After examining all Chinese companies listed on the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges between 2003 and 2009 the study found that the value relevance of earnings (the degree to which changes in reported earnings affect share prices) had increased following IFRS convergence in 2007, almost certainly as a result of convergence itself. The research also revealed that IFRS convergence resulted in better quality corporate disclosures only where there were other strong incentives for companies to do so, such as a high level of dependence on the equity markets for funding.
The findings underline the importance of IFRS as the international standard for financial reporting, particularly where companies have legal, governance and commercial incentives to provide high-quality disclosures. Convergence has undoubtedly worked for China. Other emerging economies – along with some significant developed ones yet to converge with IFRS – must now take notice. To consolidate and build on the benefits of convergence, the legal and regulatory accounting framework will need to be enhanced on a continuous basis, which will provide challenges and opportunities for all finance professionals.
Professor Barry J Cooper is head of the School of Accounting, Economics and Finance at Deakin University, Australia