The International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) – the accounting standard used in more than 110 countries – has some key differences from the United States' Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). At the conceptual level, IFRS is considered more of a principles-based accounting standard in contrast to GAAP, which is considered more rules-based. By being more principles-based, IFRS, arguably, represents and captures the economics of a transaction better than GAAP. Some of differences between the two accounting frameworks are highlighted below.

Intangibles

The treatment of acquired intangible assets helps illustrate why IFRS is considered more principles-based. Acquired intangible assets under GAAP are recognized at fair value, while under IFRS, it is only recognized if the asset will have a future economic benefit and has a measured reliability. Intangible assets are things like goodwill, R&D, and advertising costs.

Inventory Costs

Under IFRS, the last-in, first-out (LIFO) method for accounting for inventory costs is not allowed. Under GAAP, either LIFO or first-in, first-out (FIFO) inventory estimates can be used. The move to a single method of inventory costing could lead to enhanced comparability between countries, and remove the need for analysts to adjust LIFO inventories in their comparison analysis.

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Some Key Differences Between IFRS and GAAP

Write-Downs

Under IFRS, a write-down of inventory can be reversed in future periods if specific criteria are met. Under GAAP, once inventory has been written down, any reversal is prohibited.

Discontinued Operations

Discontinued operations are company assets or components that have either been disposed of or are being held for sale.

Under GAAP, discontinued operations receive unique presentation treatment. A company should only be reported as a discontinued operation on a financial statement if:

  • Resulting elimination: The disposal or pending sale results in the component or asset being completely removed from company operations.
  •  Continuing involvement: Once the disposal or sale is complete, there is no continuing involvement by the company with respect to the component or asset.

If these conditions are both present, the company is required to report on its income statement the results of operations of the asset or component for current and prior periods in a separate discontinued operations section.

The definition of discontinued operation is slightly different under IFRS guidelines. A company's asset or component is discontinued if the following are true:

  • The component has been disposed of or is classified as held for sale.
  • The component represents a separate line of business or area of operation; is part of a premeditated, coordinated plan to remove that separate line of business or area of operation; or is a subsidiary component that has been exclusively purchased with intent to resell.

An entity using IFRS rules can classify equity method investments as "held for sale," which is not possible under GAAP. There is also no condition precluding continuing involvement with IFRS treatment. Like GAAP, however, discontinued operations under IFRS are represented by their own section on an income statement.