SYNOPSIS:

With the movement toward adoption of International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) worldwide, a question arises as to whether the adoption of a principles-based approach, such as IFRS, will ultimately result in higher-quality financial reporting. This issue is particularly relevant because, even though for now the SEC is not adopting IFRS, the securities markets and the SEC still need to ponder the implications of a decision that may lead to the ultimate adoption of, or at least some degree of convergence with, IFRS in the U.S. To examine this issue, we employ an experiment with 97 experienced auditors as participants. Using a case setting involving the classification of a lease (operating versus capital), we manipulate the accounting standard type as rules-based or principles-based, and the regulatory regime as stronger or weaker. The lease setting is one where there are indications of management's incentives to leave the debt off of the balance sheet and, hence, engage in aggressive reporting. We find, as expected, that auditors are more likely to constrain aggressive reporting under principles-based accounting standards than under rules-based standards, under both stronger and weaker regulatory regimes. Importantly, from a public policy perspective, the results indicate that auditors' judgments under principles-based standards, regardless of the strength of the financial regulatory regime, lead to more conservative reporting when compared to rules-based standards coupled with a stronger financial regulatory regime, which is the way the U.S. environment is often characterized.

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