The Financial Accounting Standards Board’s Statement No. 52 on foreign currency translation introduces the concept of the “functional currency” to determine the recognition of foreign currency translation gains, losses and adjustments. According to the criteria set forth in the statement, the functional currency in the case of a foreign subsidiary that is an independent, cash-generating center will be the local currency; in most other cases, the functional currency will be the dollar.
If the functional currency is the dollar, the translation process under Statement No. 52 is essentially the same as under the old Statement No. 8: The “temporal” method is used, and gains or losses resulting from translation are included in income for the period. If the functional currency is the local currency, then the “all-current” method is applied: All assets and liabilities are translated at the current rate; translation gains and losses are not recognized in the income statement, but are included in owners’ equity as “translation adjustments”; and income statement items are translated at the rate that prevailed when the revenue or expense was recognized (in general, the weighted average exchange rate for the year).
When the local currency is the functional currency, adoption of Statement No. 52 will lead to smaller fluctuations in operating income and much smaller fluctuations in net income in response to changes in exchange rate. This result should please many critics of Statement No. 8. On the other hand, Statement No. 52 raises its own problems. In particular, the translation at current exchange rates of local-currency-denominated historical cost items may be considered to result in a figure that is neither a meaningful description of past cash flows nor a description of future flows. The statement further confounds interpretation of the effects of translation by requiring that these meaningless balances be consolidated with the parent company’s accounts.