Financial statements of the MTR corporation

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With regard to the sustainability development, MTR Corporation (MTR) does not only emphasis on making high profit with economic of scale, but also providing more jobs opportunities to the society and protecting the environment. The sustainability report of MTR conforms to the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and gives a view of the policies and issues of such matters to a group of people, such as shareholders, suppliers, investors, and the community.

PART A

Undoubtedly, shareholders would concentrate more on the economic aspect of the corporation, but this report would also concentrate on the environmental and social performance of the MTR. The following four qualitative characteristics are good indicators to evaluate the MTR sustainability Report:

Relevance

"Information in financial statements is relevant when it influences the economic decisions of users. It can do that both by (a) helping them evaluate past, present, or future events relating to an entity and by (b) confirming or correcting past evaluations they have made." [1] 

The report achieved relevance by providing predictive value. ISBA Framework specifies that information about an economic phenomenon has predictive value if it has value as an input to predictive processes used by capital providers to form their own expectations about the future. For example, in the MTR's sustainability report, the 'Sustainability Performance Highlights' shows the data of turnover, fixed assets growth and debt equity ratio for the year 2008 and 2009. These figures help shareholders to consider how MTR is performing; how is the future prospect of MTR; and whether there will be opportunity to receive dividends in future.

The report stated that MTR expected to widely install HB-LED lighting in the stations. This item is relevant to shareholders because this piece of information can be used to predict future outcome. Shareholders can expect that electricity expense will be significantly reduced by 40% due to the lower total electricity consumption and hence profit may be improved.

Beside this, the information in the sustainability report provided confirmatory value. ISBA Framework specifies that information about an economic phenomenon has confirmatory value if it confirms or changes the past (or present) expectations based on previous evaluations. The sustainability report included a section 'Performance against Qualitative Safety Targets'. It is relevant information about passengers and public safety, staff safety and contractor safety which relates to the social aspect. It achieved relevance because is shown the budgeted target done at the beginning of 2009 and helped shareholders to confirm present outcome have achieved expected results.

Reliability

"Information in financial statements is reliable if it is free from material error and bias and can be depended upon by users to represent events and transactions faithfully." [2] 

MTR seeks external assurance from independent certified accountants (the Pricewaterhouse Coppers) for the sustainability report. This item involves the quality of reliability because third party verified the data in the sustainability report based on the International Standard on Assurance Engagements 3000 "Assurance Engagements other than Audits or Reviews of Historical Information" which enhanced credibility and transparency of the report.

The report stated that there are no staff redundancies due to financial crisis. This achieved the quality of reliability because it is a faithful representation with supporting. It is proved by the information in the section of staff development which showed that two thousands more employees are hired to fill up the vacancies for a project instead of dismiss the existing staff.

In addition, since the report was prepared according to the Guidelines to Account for and Report on Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Removals for Buildings in Hong Kong, there is reasonable assurance about the assessment on greenhouse gas emissions of MTR Corporation. Therefore MTR's disclosure in this area is reliable for shareholders to rely on.

Comparability

"Users must be able to compare the financial statements of an entity over time so that they can identify trends in its financial position and performance. Users must also be able to compare the financial statements of different entities. Disclosure of accounting policies is important for comparability." [3] 

The information of the MTR sustainability report achieves comparability because it helps shareholders to compare over time. For example, since the MTR Sustainability Report shows the priority business risks and performance for the years 2007 to 2009, the shareholders are able to compare easily and identify the trend and development of specific issue, like the financial stability, staff development and training, and long-term energy supply without renewable. This helps shareholders to make appropriate decisions about investing in MTR.

MTR also provided key environmental data for five year, from 2005 to 2009. It showed how the company is dealing with the matters of GHG Emissions, electricity consumption, waste generation and water usage. Shareholders can then compare the results and determined whether MTR has adopted related policies for improving these matters.

The qualitative characteristic, comparability, also implies that the sustainability report should be comparable with different entities. However since MTR is a monopoly in the market once it taken over the KCR, so the MTR Sustainability Report cannot be comparable with corporate within same industry. It can only be compared with other companies for specific common issues, for example, how different are the companies' policies for dealing with customer service on one hand and with the intention to environmental protection on the other hand.

Understandability

"Information should be presented in a way that is readily understandable by users who have a reasonable knowledge of business and economic activities and accounting and who are willing to study the information with reasonable diligence." [4] 

The information provided in the MTR Sustainability Report is a good piece of information because it is readily understandable by the users. It is presented in a concise and clear format with brief descriptions and explanations on the issue. For example, diagrams, bar chart in the sustainability report show different information about the entity in different dimensions. This benefits most of the users that they can understand all those meanings even they have no deep cognition about the company.

Besides, the MTR sustainability report contains supporting information section at the last few pages. It provides many additional information which the shareholders may concern about, for example, future plan on railway network extensions, key figures in MTR financial statements, and some benchmarking results. Also, in the Glossary and definitions section, some relevant information including interpretation of technical terms is included. These involve the feature of understandability.

However, MTR Corporation's sustainability report did not achieve understandability because there is only English version for this report. It did not take into account the needs of extensive shareholders which their mother language is Chinese, not English. It would be difficult for shareholders, especially housewife and elderly, to read the information in the report and they may not clear about the situations of the company and also the effects of the company policies regarding economic, environmental and social areas.

Conclusion

Except some of the special items stated above, information provided in the sustainability report provided by MTR achieved the qualitative characteristics approximately, especially the feature of reliability. From the view of shareholders, it is a satisfied sustainability report but with some room for improvement, for example, at least provide shareholders a Chinese version sustainability report.

PART B

Although all the above qualitative characteristics serve for the same purpose, that is making the financial information useful to users, reliability [5] seems the most important one for the main reason that it gives recognition to the financial reporting.

Even the other qualitative characteristics have their own importance; a faithful representation cannot be neglected. For example, MTR's reporting is valuable and enhances the credibility of the statements as it complied with specific reporting guidelines and industry prospective. Also, if MTR provides faithful representation, it will mean that the report preparer has carefully considered all internal and external factors and significant impacts of the matters. Therefore, the financial information in the report as a whole reflects complete, fair and accurate situations and events of the entity which the shareholders most concern about.

Providing faithful representation is more important than providing confirmatory and predictive value. It is already enough for an entity to provide faithful information about the entity's policies and events. Something to do with forecasting can be done by the potential investors with their own analysis. If MTR provided relevant information for shareholders but this information is not based on the concept of prudence or substance over form, the information will be meaningless; or if MTR provides financial growth forecasting for shareholders, it is most likely to affects their decisions and this would go against the original idea of financial reporting.

Besides, reliability helps enhancing the level of accuracy and transparency of the information provided by reporting entity. For example, the report of MTR enhances credibility as it is assured by professional accountant. Although this does not guarantee the report is absolutely free from fraud, this would reduce the uncertainty about material misrepresentation made by the directors. That also helps showing the actual results of company policies. Therefore, it can tackle the problem of biased reporting and hence avoid potential losses of shareholders who relied on the false information.

Moreover, reliable information implies that the report is based on sufficient supporting documents and figures generated internally. In this case, the supporting documents are seen as strong evidence for the reporting content. Also it means that the information has been criticized by expertise or with consultation which enhance credibility of the information provided.

Understandability is not important as reliability for some investors. As the sustainability report of MTR is usually provided to two kinds of people: professional investors and ignorant, such as housewife and the elderly. It is common that the ignorant do not read the report thoroughly and thus even if there is no Chinese version of the report, understandability may not be so important to the knowledgeable investors.

All the above reasons illustrate why reliability is the fundamental feature. To conclude, among the qualitative characteristics, it seems that reporting entity should pay the highest attention on reliability of information. Other characteristics are complementary to reliability only.

Note that it is not possible always satisfy all the qualitative characteristics at the same time. However, reliability retains the original purpose of reporting and suits for the users' needs, so it is the most important one. Balancing between reliability and others should be necessary only in some situations with further professional judgment.

Overall Conclusion

Although there is not mandatory provision for companies to prepare sustainability report at present, there is increasing public awareness for the matter. Global Reporting Initiative therefore is a high quality reporting practice guideline for guiding the sustainability reporting process which is important to public.

In the case of MTR Corporation, it can be found that the overall annual report contains the features of reliability, comparability, understandability and relevance as stated in Part A. Although this is quite good voluntary practice, MTR Corporation should try to be more considerate about the shareholders' needs. It should prepare a sustainability report without elements hat harm the quality of its reporting.

Note that it is not always possible all qualitative characteristics at the same time. However reliability retains the original purpose of reporting which most suits the shareholders' needs, so it is the most important one.

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