Volume 12, No. 8

Now Playing At A Company Near You:  "The Sudden Standards"  There's a kind-sounding term in the world of accounting standards: the grace period. It's the time between the issuance of a final standard and the date it must be implemented by affected firms - and generally, it's long enough that they can make a graceful transition to the new accounting. There are a couple of accounting pronouncements that will have consequences very soon - and they had very short grace periods. One of the pronouncements, a consensus of FASB's Emerging Issues Task Force, deals with revenue recognition issues; the other, an FASB interpretation of an existing standard, could lard some firms' balance sheets with previously well-hidden assets and debt. They'll both have reporting consequences in quarters beginning after June 15, 2003; maybe not everywhere, but there will be plenty of opportunities for investors to be confused if they don't know what to expect. The same could be said for the firms required to adopt the new standards. Neither of these pronouncements are the result of a high-profile FASB project that's captured plenty of media attention like accounting for employee stock options, and companies may have shrugged them off as not applicable to them. Yet companies might be surprised at the wide scope of these sudden standards, and could be learning about implementation as they trundle through the third quarter of the year. Investors and analysts need to be alert to the implications of these "sudden standards" in the event they become part and parcel of analyst conference calls.

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