Country-by-country reporting is key to the new economic order

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The prime minister wrote in the FT yesterday, in a link up with Davos. He said (and I quote only in part):

Most political and business leaders gathered at the World Economic Forum this week agree on one thing: the global economy is facing its biggest test in more than a decade.

But we should also agree that turbulent conditions, throughout history, have been an opportunity for reform. This latest test of world financial systems presents a window in which to address fundamental issues that, if tackled properly, will improve economic management, regulation and the fight against inflation, and help us prevent similar crises in the future.

We're at one, so far.

Recent turbulence [ ] has exposed four big questions and issues for policymakers around the globe.

First, we need to respond to the significant underpricing of risk. [T]he source of many of the problems was a deficit of transparency. That transparency deficit needs to be addressed - from within organisations, their auditors, the credit rating agencies and through regulatory requirements, leading to an increased understanding by firms, investors and regulators.

I buy that too.

Second, as financial markets become increasingly interlinked, countries must ensure they have robust and effective cross-border crisis management arrangements. We now need not only strengthened national regulatory frameworks, but also strengthened international co-operation.

While financial flows and therefore risks have crossed borders effortlessly and reside in global companies, their supervisors and regulators are largely national. The world has no effective early warning system and no common approach to handling major global market disruptions. Many of the problems were identified in advance but were not acted upon. We need a clearer, more authoritative watchdog. Regulators need to be enabled to overcome their boundaries with common principles, shared analyses and information, and collaborative management of crises.

Again, I agree. But let me assure you, this is not a love in. He goes on to say:

There is also much more we can propose for the long term to reform the international financial institutions. The International Monetary Fund should be at the heart of this reform. It should work with the other global supervisors, such as the Financial Stability Forum and the Bank for International Settlements, to create the early warning system we need against the threats from financial sector developments. We should also consider how the IMF's responsibilities for financial stability could be made clearer.

Well, maybe. You see, by now Gordon is missing the point. These organisations have a tenuous hold on companies - but he's just located the problem as being within them. In that case these bodies can't help. Second, even if they could they simply don't have the data from the companies that they need to regulate this issue: they do not know where the companies really are and what they are doing.

The fact is that there has been a conflict between national regulators and global companies: it is one that those companies really rather enjoy and exploit. But in the interests of economic stability the location in which a problem can be addressed does have to be identified. Country-by-country reporting of just what a company does and where it locates its assets and liabilities will enormously assist that process. Without that information the link between the local and global regulator, the local economic crisis and the global company that has helped precipitate it cannot be made.

That is why a reform in accounting is needed as part of this process.

I will write to Gordon Brown and ask to meet on this issue: it's too important to the achievement of economic stability to ignore it.