Courtesy of The Pragmatic Capitalist
Okay, I can see how this story might not be a headliner, but we’ve heard practically nothing in the mainstream media about the upcoming battle between FASB and the financial industry with regards to accounting changes. According to Bloomberg FASB is expected to expand the use of fair value accounting after the drastic changes that took place in Q1 – the same changes that have helped so many of the banks in the near-term. FASB knows they made a mistake and got pressured by politicians and the Treasury to change the rules in the middle of the game. Well, now they’re considering changing them back (kind of). The rule change would have sweeping effects on the banks and as regular readers know, I believe would have an enormously positive impact on the long-term well being of the country. Bloomberg reports:
The scope of the FASB’s initiative, which has received almost no attention in the press, is massive. All financial assets would have to be recorded at fair value on the balance sheet each quarter, under the board’s tentative plan.
This would mean an end to asset classifications such as held for investment, held to maturity and held for sale, along with their differing balance-sheet treatments. Most loans, for example, probably would be presented on the balance sheet at cost, with a line item below showing accumulated change in fair value, and then a net fair-value figure below that. For lenders, rule changes could mean faster recognition of loan losses, resulting in lower earnings and book values.
The board said financial instruments on the liabilities side of the balance sheet also would have to be recorded at fair-market values, though there could be exceptions for a company’s own debt or a bank’s customer deposits…
While balance sheets might be simplified, income statements would acquire new complexities. Some gains and losses would count in net income. These would include changes in the values of all equity securities and almost all derivatives. Interest payments, dividends and credit losses would go in net, too, as would realized gains and losses. So would fluctuations in all debt instruments with derivatives embedded in their structures…
Imagining the Impact
Think how the saga at CIT Group Inc. might have unfolded if loans already were being marked at market values. The commercial lender, which is struggling to stay out of bankruptcy, said in a footnote to its last annual report that its loans as of Dec. 31 were worth $8.3 billion less than its balance sheet showed. The difference was greater than CIT’s reported shareholder equity. That tells you the company probably was insolvent months ago, only its book value didn’t show it.
The debate over mark-to-market accounting is an ancient one. Many banks and insurers say market-value estimates often aren’t reliable and create misleading volatility in their numbers. Investors who prefer fair values for financial instruments say they are more useful, especially at providing early warnings of trouble in a company’s business.
“It’s been a religious war,” FASB member Marc Siegel said at last week’s board meeting. “And it’s been very, very clear to me that neither side is going to give, in any way.”…
Are we beginning to see the opposite of the March rally where regulatory action lined up in favor of a market rally? When the mainstream media finally starts reporting this story don’t be shocked if the bank stocks fall under pressure or experience a general bout of weakness amidst the uncertainty. And without the banks, it’s unlikely that this market will go anywhere fast. Stay tuned.
Source: Bloomberg article: Accountants Gain Courage to Stand Up to Bankers, by Jonathan Weil here.