Magazine

Table: Shedding More Light


SEC Chairman Pitt complains that financial reports are backward-looking, hard to understand, and don't highlight the information investors need. Some of the improvements he is considering:

INTANGIBLE ASSETS

Items like patents and brands to human resources don't show up on balance sheets unless they're bought or sold. Book value differs widely between companies that make acquisitions and those that develop products internally. Rulemakers are struggling to figure out which assets belong on the books--and how they should be valued.

NONFINANCIAL FACTORS

Human capital, customer loyalty, and product quality all contribute to the bottom line but can't be measured in dollars. Investors also need to know what products are in the pipeline. The SEC may push industry groups to develop standardized ways of disclosing such information.

MORE FREQUENT DATA

Auto makers report weekly production, big retailers same-store sales monthly. Other industries could produce more timely numbers--if they get protection from investor lawsuits.

SLICE `N' DICE

Accountants are developing XBRL, a way of coding financial reports on the Internet, that will let investors download and manipulate companies' numbers any way they like.


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