IFRS

  • 11 Jul 2013 at 3:05 PM

Deutsche Bank Did Some Accounting Stuff

I used to work in a business that, among other things, helped clients get financing against securities. One thing that you learn quickly in that business, and then spend the rest of your career trying to forget, is that the simplest way to get financing against securities is to sell them. You’ve got $100 of stock and want to borrow $80 of cash against it? Just sell the stock, now you have $100, you’re welcome.1

This is not a perfect solution, of course, because you presumably owned the stock for a reason, and that reason was presumably that you thought it would go up.2 And if you sell it you lose the chance to participate in that upside. So one thing you could do is (1) sell your stock for $100 today and (2) enter into some sort of transaction that gives you some or all of the upside in the stock over some period of time. Like, you could buy a call option struck at $100, giving you all the upside and none of the downside, though at the cost of having to pay premium for the call option. Or you could enter into a total return swap struck at $100, giving you all of the upside and all of the downside at a zero-ish cost. Or you could enter into a forward contract to buy back the stock, which is the same as the swap, more or less. That last one – sell stock today, enter into a forward to buy it back in the future – is so common that it has a name, and the name is “repo.” Read more »

This Bloomberg article about accounting differences between the US and Europe for derivative-y things comes down pretty squarely on the side of Europe, which is to be expected: European (well, IFRS) standards tend to gross up the size of bank balance sheets, compared to US GAAP standards. Grossing up bank balance sheets makes for bigger numbers and scarier banks, and “US banks are scarier than they seem” is more newsworthy than “European banks are less scary than they seem.” Also intuitively truer. As Bloomberg puts it:

U.S. accounting rules allow banks to record a smaller portion of their derivatives than European peers and keep most mortgage-linked bonds off their books. That can underestimate the risks firms face and affect how much capital they need.

Or it can overestimate the risk European firms face. Or any estimating of risks based on any measure of balance-sheet size is necessarily indeterminate. Risk happens tomorrow, not yesterday.

Anyway though some of these accounting differences are puzzling insofar as they are not accounting differences. Here is the mortgage bond one: Read more »