Any business that wants to stay in business needs to recognise revenue. And conveniently enough, recent machinations at the IASB have combined in a perfect storm of revenue recognition, the attractiveness of Far East property as an asset class, secrecy and oversight.
As attendees at the 3 November 2011 meeting of the International Financial Reporting Standards Interpretations Committee (IASB) discovered, a storm has brewed over a 2009 interpretive document dealing with off-plan property sales in the construction industry.
That guidance is IFRIC 15, Agreements for the Construction of Real Estate. Two jurisdictions, Malaysia and the Philippines, have refused to implement it. And, it seems, some board members are "worried".
The narrative that emerges from IASB chairman Hans Hoogervorst is that the IFRS world is a happy family of nations, where everyone cedes sovereignty to the IASB, and where jurisdictions endorse international standards unquestioningly. Driving this fantasy is US adoption of IFRS - or at least some for of SEC-endorsed cohabitation of international standards alongside US GAAP. It is hard to sell the vision of a single set of standards if countries carve-out chunks on a whim.
A prime example of this sales pitch was apparent on 23 January when Hoogervorst addressed the Ernst & Young IFRS seminar in Moscow. First, following the template for all his speeches, he praised his host country and then he complimented the Russian people.
Then he cut to the chase: "Russia should be congratulated for its full and unambiguous commitment to global accounting standards." No matter that a set of financial statements produced in a near-gangster state are unlikely to be comparable with a set of IFRS financial statements drawn up and regulated in London, what counts is the illusion of equivalence.
The Far East economies have their own notions of economic success and complicating their landscape is a lot more than any concern over off-plan real estate sales. IFRIC 15 interprets both construction industry and revenue recognition guidance under IFRS. And IASB, along with the US Financial Accounting Standards Board, has committed to develop a joint revenue-recognition standard.
Revenue recognition is a big issue for listed entities, the US SEC and investors, and is a number that needs to be the same under both sets of post-convergence literature. For the IASB this means that not only must they hit convergence with the US, they must also make sure that the Far East economies get the answer they want.
The complaints from the Far East are simple: Malaysia, anonymised in staff papers as jurisdiction A, operates a sell-then-build model whereby a Malaysian property developer will first sell a significant proportion of units in a development to prospective occupiers and then start work. This contrasts with jurisdiction B, Australia, where the developer secures its own financing for the project and then sells properties off-plan as construction progresses. The potential impact of IFRIC 15 is to delay recognition of revenue on off-plan sales.
According to IFRIC chairman Wayne Upton: "A number of board members are concerned about that uncertainty and the interaction between IFRIC 15 and the revenue project and have approached me individually... and said, ‘We're worried, we're concerned."
In the Philippines endorsement authorities have deferred IFRIC 15, and also plan to defer the new revenue recognition standard until they have assessed it against local "practices".
The real interest in this story has little to do with off-plan real estate sales and the future profitability of Malaysian construction companies. IASB staff have almost certainly taken care of the concerns in the new revenue-recognition standard and smoothed the path to Malaysian adoption of the new standard.
The real story is that despite the SEC showing an interest in IASB due process, alongside other members of the monitoring board overseeing the IASB's parent foundation, and despite the appointment of a due-process committee, publicly funded IASB staff still feel it is appropriate to censor meeting papers. Well, now everyone knows the secret.