The S&P 500: Where The Options Aren't: The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants annually hosts a national conference in Washington on current SEC reporting developments. The majority of the speakers are SEC staff members, making the conference a magnet for public accounting practitioners: they get a worthwhile "heads-up" on the issues which have confronted the SEC in recent months. That's practical knowledge - very useful information for an auditor who's gauging financial reporting risks to be faced in the annual audit ritual. No one wants to bait the SEC or expose themselves to potential lawsuits; like research in investing, this kind of intelligence in auditing helps minimize painful outcomes. Analysts don't do audits; why should it matter to them which issues hassle the SEC and auditors? Only this: a review of the issues helps form a skeptical mindset that's the most important tool in the analyst's toolbox. Spend some time with these issues, and you'll come away with the impression that some companies will do just about anything to garner whatever edge they might in making their financial statements look better than the true economic state of the firm. Learning about these accounting issues helps an analyst come to grips with investment issues of which he or she might otherwise be unaware. Pure selfish motivation and an inquiring mind ought to be enough to make an analyst or investor care. The following are selected highlights of the issues discussed at December's conference by members of the SEC's Office of the Chief Accountant, the Division of Corporate Finance and others. Think of them as the issues that will make companies and their auditors "party like it's 1999" come this annual reporting season.