Auditing Standard No. 14

Evaluating Audit Results

Appendix B – Qualitative Factors Related to the Evaluation of the Materiality of Uncorrected Misstatements

B1.      Paragraph 17 of this standard states:

The auditor should evaluate whether uncorrected misstatements are material, individually or in combination with other misstatements. In making this evaluation, the auditor should evaluate the misstatements in relation to the specific accounts and disclosures involved and to the financial statements as a whole, taking into account relevant quantitative and qualitative factors.1/

Note:  In interpreting the federal securities laws, the Supreme Court of the United States has held that a fact is material if there is "a substantial likelihood that the …fact would have been viewed by the reasonable investor as having significantly altered the 'total mix' of information made available."2/ As the Supreme Court has noted, determinations of materiality require "delicate assessments of the inferences a 'reasonable shareholder' would draw from a given set of facts and the significance of those inferences to him …."3/

Note:  As a result of the interaction of quantitative and qualitative considerations in materiality judgments, uncorrected misstatements of relatively small amounts could have a material effect on the financial statements. For example, an illegal payment of an otherwise immaterial amount could be material if there is a reasonable possibility4/ that it could lead to a material contingent liability or a material loss of revenue.5/ Also, a misstatement made intentionally could be material for qualitative reasons, even if relatively small in amount.

B2.      Qualitative factors to consider in the auditor's evaluation of the materiality of uncorrected misstatements, if relevant, include the following:

  1. The potential effect of the misstatement on trends, especially trends in profitability.
  2. A misstatement that changes a loss into income or vice versa.
  3. The effect of the misstatement on segment information, for example, the significance of the matter to a particular segment important to the future profitability of the company, the pervasiveness of the matter on the segment information, and the impact of the matter on trends in segment information, all in relation to the financial statements taken as a whole.
  4. The potential effect of the misstatement on the company's compliance with loan covenants, other contractual agreements, and regulatory provisions.
  5. The existence of statutory or regulatory reporting requirements that affect materiality thresholds.
  6. A misstatement that has the effect of increasing management's compensation, for example, by satisfying the requirements for the award of bonuses or other forms of incentive compensation.
  7. The sensitivity of the circumstances surrounding the misstatement, for example, the implications of misstatements involving fraud and possible illegal acts, violations of contractual provisions, and conflicts of interest.
  8. The significance of the financial statement element affected by the misstatement, for example, a misstatement affecting recurring earnings as contrasted to one involving a non-recurring charge or credit, such as an extraordinary item.
  9. The effects of misclassifications, for example, misclassification between operating and non-operating income or recurring and non-recurring income items.
  10. The significance of the misstatement or disclosures relative to known user needs, for example:
    • The significance of earnings and earnings per share to public company investors.
    • The magnifying effects of a misstatement on the calculation of purchase price in a transfer of interests (buy/sell agreement).
    • The effect of misstatements of earnings when contrasted with expectations.
  11. The definitive character of the misstatement, for example, the precision of an error that is objectively determinable as contrasted with a misstatement that unavoidably involves a degree of subjectivity through estimation, allocation, or uncertainty.
  12. The motivation of management with respect to the misstatement, for example, (i) an indication of a possible pattern of bias by management when developing and accumulating accounting estimates or (ii) a misstatement precipitated by management's continued unwillingness to correct weaknesses in the financial reporting process.
  13. The existence of offsetting effects of individually significant but different misstatements.
  14. The likelihood that a misstatement that is currently immaterial may have a material effect in future periods because of a cumulative effect, for example, that builds over several periods.
  15. The cost of making the correction − it may not be cost-beneficial for the client to develop a system to calculate a basis to record the effect of an immaterial misstatement. On the other hand, if management appears to have developed a system to calculate an amount that represents an immaterial misstatement, it may reflect a motivation of management as noted in paragraph B2.l above.
  16. The risk that possible additional undetected misstatements would affect the auditor's evaluation.

1/ If the financial statements contain material misstatements, AU sec. 508, Reports on Audited Financial Statements, indicates that the auditor should issue a qualified or an adverse opinion on the financial statements. AU sec. 508.35 discusses situations in which the financial statements are materially affected by a departure from the applicable financial reporting framework.

2/ TSC Industries v. Northway, Inc., 426 U.S. 438, 449 (1976). See also Basic, Inc. v. Levinson, 485 U.S. 224 (1988).

3/ TSC Industries, 426 U.S. at 450.

4/ There is a reasonable possibility of an event, as used in this standard, when the likelihood of the event is either "reasonably possible" or "probable," as those terms are used in the FASB Accounting Standards Codification, Contingencies Topic, paragraph 450-20-25-1.

5/ AU sec. 317, Illegal Acts by Clients.