Global ‘operating profit’ reporting standardised
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Global ‘operating profit’ reporting standardised

Accounting watchdog aims to curb use of ‘misleading’ EBITDA figures

(Photo: Reuters)
(Photo: Reuters)

LONDON - Companies will have to publish standardised operating profit figures from 2027 under new requirements from a global accounting rule-setter to help end what billionaire investor Warren Buffett has called “misleading” numbers.

The International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) writes bookkeeping rules used by about 50,000 companies across 147 countries, but not in the United States, which has its own rules.

IASB chairman Andreas Barckow said it marks a significant change by ending the discretion of companies to decide what constitutes operating profit in their income statement that investors rely on.

Currently, before arriving at a net profit or loss, many companies report earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA), a figure that is not defined under IASB rules and therefore can be compiled in different ways to make performance look better than it might really be.

Investors have called for more rigour to standardise information on operating profit and make it easier for investors to compare figures, Barckow told Reuters.

“We need a standardised version so that we can actually base our analysis on the same anchor point,” he said.

Warren Buffett, the chairman of the conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway, has described EBITDA as a “misleading statistic” by failing to include the cost of depreciation. His deputy Charlie Munger, who died in November, called it “bullshit earnings”.

The new IASB rules define mandatory sub-totals for operating profit, which will include depreciation, amortisation and impairment on goodwill, and profit before financing and income taxes.

Common adjustments, such as for currency fluctuations, can only be included in footnotes to the statement.

Companies can continue reporting an EBIDTA figure, but only in the footnotes, if it can be reconciled with what is in the two new mandatory subtotals.

Banks and insurers will have to include interest, a key part of their business model, in their operating profit, which some already do.

Barckow said companies can use the new rules before statements for 2027 if they want to.

US accounting rules are not being reformed in the same way as the IASB norms.

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