FAS 157

  • 02 Oct 2008 at 10:03 AM

Inability To Lie, Conceal Seen As Detrimental To Public Firms

We would think most people would apply healthy doses of skepticism to any measure that reduces information, limits disclosure, or (worse) injects falsehoods into a market system. So it continues to puzzle us when normally rational and at least moderately intelligent looking people blithely gaze in another direction when told they are going to be repeatedly lied to about the fundamental financial condition of publicly held firms. Worse, there are a select few (a population primarily filled out with elected officials) who seem to have cause and effect chains so mangled that they believe accounting rule changes fundamentally make companies worth more (or less).
I suppose decades of watching financial segments on MSNBC or (gulp) Fox Business so dulls the financial intellect that it seems entirely plausible that delaying the recognition of losses on a bunch of CDO sludge actually makes a firm more solvent. How else do we explain it when the likes of Congressman John Boehner support the suspension of Mark-to-Market accounting by explaining that disclosing numbers that actually some connection to the financial reality of a firm’s balance sheet might be too “onerous” for financial firms to bear. This nearly sends us screaming into the darkness. Have we really sunk to the point where the fiction of earnings is so deeply embedded in the Wall Street psyche that no one so much as blinks hard when something like this is uttered in front of a live mic? Worse actually, as simply inventing an argument of dubious plausibility for asset valuation seems to be enough to justify almost any figure you would like to use in your financial disclosures now. The least you people can do is authorize the use of the [totalbullshit] tag in xBML, then, right?
Investors Battle Fair Value Accounting Suspension [New York Times]

  • 06 Aug 2008 at 2:46 PM

From Mark-To-Market To Fair Value

The debate over mark-to-market accounting rages on.
The accounting standard known as FAS157 has been criticized by some bankers, notably Blackstone Group chief Steve Schwarzman, for needlessly causing big write-downs and encouraging financial panic. It’s defenders include Goldman Sachs, which pointedly left the Institute for International Finance in June, a banking lobby group, over the IIF’s anti-mark-to-market stance. Last week Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson defended mark-to-market during a talk he gave at the New York Public Library (which, ironically, is now officially called The Stephen A. Schwarzman Library.)
“I believe in fair value accounting,” Paulson said.
Over at the Deal, Robert Teitelman cries foul, accusing Paulson of restating the debate in question-begging terms.

Now “fair-value accounting” has been around for awhile, but increasingly its patrons are using it to nudge aside the far clearer and more precise term “mark-to-market.” “Fair value” contains a kind of moral imperative. Mark-to-market lays its weary head on the markets. Fair value, is, of course, by definition, fair. Who can argue with that?

Paulson and the triumph of fair-value accounting