Maybe not Christmas 2013, but some Christmas in the not so distant future: Former Enron CEO […]
In case you thought the fair value debate was limited to the U.S. circa 2008, think again. A rule you probably haven’t heard of (but will likely see a version of once government debt becomes as much of a pain in the ass here as it has been in Europe) called IFRS 9 (which replaces IAS 39) would allow banks to price some government debt on their books at cost, instead of current awful prices.
Apparently the European Union doesn’t like this idea. EU Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier told a webcast meeting in New York this week “I do not believe this will be the first solution to the problems we face in Europe at the moment,” referring to IFRS 9‘s creative interpretation of “fair value.” Ironically, IFRS 9 accomplishes this feat by eliminating available for sale and held-to-maturity classifications for bonds, leaving only amortized cost and fair value.
IASB Chairman Hans Hoogervorst insists this plan is really only the suck less option, not some sort of magical accounting trick that will suddenly make Greece solvent and Irish banks healthy. “Under IFRS 9 impairments will still be painful but I am convinced it would be more timely done because the cliff effect is much less severe,” he said at a recent joint meeting of the IASB’s trustees and monitoring board of public officials, including Michel Barnier.
The International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) and the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) today issued new guidance on fair value measurement and disclosure requirements for International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRSs) and US generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP).
The guidance, set out in IFRS 13 Fair Value Measurement and an update to Topic 820 in the FASB’s Accounting Standards Codification® (formerly referred to as SFAS 157), completes a major project of the boards’ joint work to improve IFRSs and US GAAP and to bring about their convergence.
The harmonisation of fair value measurement and disclosure requirements internationally also forms an important element of the boards’ response to the global financial crisis.
Of course what’s most important is that wily Scotsman and knight of the double-entry roundtable Sir David Tweedie will be able to call it a career knowing that he saw this thing through. He sounds pretty pleased with the effort saying, “The finalisation of this project marks the completion of a major convergence project and is a fundamentally important element of our joint response to the global financial crisis. The result is clearer and more consistent guidance on measuring fair value, where its use is already required.” Hans, you can take it from here.
Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRKA, BRKB) took an accounting charge to reflect the declines of three stocks in its investment portfolio after regulators asked about the company’s policy for writing down investment losses. But Berkshire Chief Financial Officer Marc Hamburg complained that the current stock prices don’t reflect the worth of the shares, and predicted in a letter to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that “each security’s market price will grow to at least the intrinsic value that existed” when Berkshire made the investments. [Dow Jones]
If the drinks at Davos weren’t already free, we’re pretty sure Stephen Schwarzman would be buying.
From the Journal’s man on the accounting beat, Michael Rapoport:
Accounting rule makers took a key step Tuesday to reverse a proposal that would have required banks to value their loans based on the ups and downs of the market. The Financial Accounting Standards Board agreed that companies could continue to carry a variety of financial assets and liabilities at amortized cost, an adjusted version of their original cost, as they do now. That would reverse a proposal the board introduced last May that would have required bank loans and other financial assets to be carried at “fair value,” based on market prices.
What happened, you ask? What caused the FASB to fold like a cheap lawn chair? Remember all those nastygrams that were sent to Bob Herz? It sounds like the FASB took those personally:
FASB indicated the overwhelmingly negative reaction to its proposal, from companies and investors alike, played a big role in prompting the board to change its mind. The board received more than 2,800 comment letters on its fair-value proposal, most of them opposed to the move, and heard more opposition at a series of public roundtables before it began reconsideration of its proposal for fair-value changes.
So the bankers win this round. Oh, wait…they win every round.
John Carney comments on Sheila Bair’s bellyaching about mark-to-market today by simply wondering why there has to be a debate at all. That is, couldn’t accounting rules just be served up – presumably buffet style – and the banks would choose which treatment they like best and then regulators could judge their health based on their choices:
Here’s what I don’t get: why do we need one set of accounting standards at all? To put it differently, why should banking regulators feel obliged to judge the safety and soundness of financial institutions according to any measure that they do not like? If Bair doesn’t think fair value is appropriate to the banking sector, can’t she just ignore fair value when judging whether banks satisfy regulatory requirements?
It’s an interesting question. Why does the FDIC care what fair value says when determining bank health? Analysts use and refer to non-GAAP data all the time, so what difference does it make if regulators rationalize their analysis on similar non-GAAP measures?
After explaining that, despite the complaints of a certain billionaire (among others), transparency is actually a good thing, Carney floats an idea:
My truly radical proposal is that we should probably do away with this argument altogether by allowing banks—and every other company for that matter—to choose which accounting standards they want to use. If amortized cost is truly a better standard, banks using that will surely be rewarded by higher stock prices and cheaper access to credit. On the other hand, if fair value is appropriate, the market will reward that. Why not let banks choose and bear the costs of their choice?
While we’re with John in spirit (especially for the banks, they run things after all), the BSDs in the accounting will never let this fly. The idea of letting individual companies determine what accounting rules to follow is enough to cause Big 4 partners to set themselves on fire in the middle of Union Square in protest.
However, if you’ve got thoughts on we could put this thing in motion, it might be kind of fun to see how it works out.
Chris Gibson – obviously not wanting to disappoint the ABA – wants that to be clear.
Last month we told you about how the American Bankers Association encouraged anyone that disagreed with the FASB’s proposed fair value rule to write a letter telling Herz & Co. how much the proposal su ind enough to provide a template for said “FASB Blows” correspondence so the anti-fair value crowd could get the gist of what needed to be said.
The ABA did warn, however, that the FASB hates, loathes, DETESTS form letters, so in order to make a valid point, it was advisable to not simple slap your name in the appropriate place but to articular your own special brand of hatred for the FASB.
As you may recall, many ABA groupies did not heed this warning, which no doubt resulted in Bob Herz and the rest of the Norwalk team using the letters to stoke their mid-summer weenie roast bonfire.
As disappointed as the ABA must have been with the lack of originality, we were sent this shining example that has been making the rounds at the Big 4 (or so we’re told). Our guess is that this is more of what the ABA had in mind:
Bravo, James C. Blaine. Bravo. You are most definitely into the brevity thing. You have, presumably, made the ABA proud. But wait, there is a pro-fair value letter worthy of these pages.
Granted, it was written back in May but Brian Cowell is no less passionate than Mr Blaine:
Nicely done, both of you. Everyone take note.
Accounting News Roundup: Wells Fargo Comes Out Against FASB Fair Value Proposal; PwC Buying Diamond Management; MLB Teams Financials Leaked | 08.24.10
Wells Fargo “Strongly” Opposes Accounting Board’s New Rules on Loan Value [Bloomberg]
“Wells Fargo & Co., the largest home lender in the U.S., said it disagrees with an accounting board’s plan that would require banks to report the fair value of loans on their books.
‘We strongly oppose the expansion of fair value as the primary balance-sheet measurement attribute for virtually all financial instruments,’ Wells Fargo Controller Richard Levy wrote in the Aug. 19 letter. ‘It will only serve to cement a short-term focus on fair-value measures.’
Wells Fargo is the first of the largest U.S. banks to publish its p writers who named an affiliation, according to the Financial Accounting Standards Board website. The letter was written to officials at the board, which said in May that it may require banks to report the fair value and amortized cost of loans and some other financial instruments on their balance sheets.”
PricewaterhouseCoopers to Buy Consulting Firm Diamond Management [WSJ]
PwC is paying $378 million for Diamond Management & Technology Consultants, “[share]holders will get $12.50 a share, a 31% premium to Monday’s closing price. The stock, up 29% in 2010 through Monday, was last at the bid level three years ago.
‘This is an attractive all cash opportunity for our stockholders, creates exciting prospects for our people, and will provide us new and enhanced capabilities to bring to our clients,’ said Diamond President and Chief Executive Adam Gutstein. ‘There’s a clear strategic fit between PwC’s assets and aspirations and Diamond’s positioning.’ “
Return prudence to accounting [FT]
“What a pity that ultra-theoretical standard-setters around the world have chosen to jettison prudence, a generally accepted accounting convention derived from more than 100 years of experience. This high-risk approach has led to absurdly lengthy and unrealistic annual reports that are now virtually incomprehensible.”
Sex Harassment at Work Gets Weirder, Scarier [Bloomberg]
“Not that I think it’s weird that a brokerage firm chief executive would pin a female clerk on the floor by putting his shoe on her breast (the right one, if you must know), or that some insurance company guy in Fullerton, California, would put a sample of his semen in a female colleague’s water bottle. Twice.
But it did get my attention when I started leafing through this year’s press releases from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and found a case where a supervisor allegedly said that women should outfit themselves in Vaseline, and nothing else; one where a manager in human resources (yes, in human resources) allegedly inquired as to the color of an assistant’s panties; and a case against a company president who the EEOC says pulled a subordinate’s pants down in front of her coworkers.”
Borders CFO resigns for new job [Reuters]
Mark Bierley is moving on after 12 years for a new gig.
Businesses Add iPads to Their Briefcases [WSJ]
“Apple, which said it sold more than three million iPads through the end of June, attributes some of the device’s success to businesses. The Cupertino, Calif., company’s Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook said in July that ‘very surprisingly’ half of the Fortune 100 are testing or deploying iPads.
More than 500 of the 11,000-plus applications built specifically for the iPad are in the business category. A free app from Citrix Systems Inc., which allows people to access internal corporate programs from the iPad, has been downloaded more than 145,000 times.
‘Everyone in IT is jumping on this one,’ said Ted Schadler, an analyst at Forrester Research. ‘Rather than wait for people to start complaining they’re saying why don’t we get a few of them in and see what they are good for.’ “
MLB Confidential: The Financial Documents Baseball Doesn’t Want You To See, Part 1 [Deadspin]
Deadspin got their hands on financial statements for several Major League Baseball teams and even the lowliest of clubs – namely the Pittsburgh Pirates – make truckloads for their owners: $20.4 million in partner distributions for fiscal year ’08.
The sports rag also has financial statements for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Florida Marlins and L.A. Angels. And as you might expect, people (MLB and the clubs’ people) are not happy.
Fair value is a simple enough concept even if you aren’t an accountant: stuff is worth what you could sell it for in the normal course of business, so that’s what you value it as when you’re adding up the value of the stuff you have. Easy, right? Not so easy when it comes to convergence.
The IASB has already expressed distaste for our fair value rules (among other things) and Accounting Onion recently shared some concerns that convergence might require a reasonable definition of “High Quality Accountant Standards” (abbreviated HQAS” by AO) agreed upon by both FASB and the IASB. So far I haven’t seen it, has anyone else?
Wait, AO launches off into it f han I ever could.
Moreover, if there are some doubts as to what HQAS is, the SEC’s view could have been attended to more closely at the outset of formal convergence efforts (October 2002); for surely the SEC had convergence in mind when they published their congressionally mandated (see the Sarbanes Oxley Act, Section 108(d)) report on the feasibility of “principles-based” accounting standards in August 2003. According to the SEC, the “objectives-oriented” standards they are looking for from a standard setter should possess the following qualities:
“Be based on an improved and consistently applied conceptual framework;
Clearly state the accounting objective of the standard;
Provide sufficient detail and structure so that the standard can be operationalized and applied on a consistent basis;
Minimize exceptions from the standard;
Avoid use of percentage tests (“bright-lines”) that allow financial engineers to achieve technical compliance with the standard while evading the intent of the standard.”
Now, seven years later, the SEC’s battle plans have been subordinated by the din and desperation of convergence wars. Are any new standards from either board “based on an improved and consistently applied conceptual framework”? Obviously not, for nary a single alteration to any conceptual framework document has occurred in the last seven years. The existing definitions for assets and liabilities are like wooden ships sent to battle against nuclear submarines.
A few weeks back, I talked to David Larsen, CPA, Managing Director of global advising firm Duff & Phelps, LLP about this fair value bullshit that complicates my life by requiring comment every few weeks. David participated on the SEC mark-to-market panel in November of 2008 and serves on FASB’s Valuation Resource Group so he’s familiar with what I’m talking about.
David believes public opinion dominates the fair value argument and really doesn’t see what the big deal is. “The goal is to make financial statements more readable,” he said of fair value’s ultimate intention. He’s a fan of transparency on the face of financial statements and more disclosures. Who doesn’t like that?
He says fair value is purely measurement and disclosure, nothing to get upset about.
In my opinion, fair value was our first test to see if we could handle the principles widely used in international accounting “standards” (hopefully “HQAS”) before we actually committed to adopting them and we failed. If you wonder why the IASB wants to hold the floor when it comes to convergence, you only have to stare our treatment of fair value right between the eyes.
It should have worked but our “P for Principles” in GAAP didn’t adequately prepare us to handle it.
Accounting News Roundup: Bush Tax Cuts May Still Have Life; FASB’s ‘Religious War’ Rages; Facebook Might Do an IPO Someday | 07.22.10
Bush Tax Cuts Roil Democrats [WSJ]
“Sen. Kent Conrad (D., N.D.) said in an interview Wednesday that Congress shouldn’t allow taxes on the wealthy to rise until the economy is on a sounder footing.
Sen. Ben Nelson (D., Neb.) said through a spokesman that he also supported extending all the expiring tax cuts for now, adding that he wanted to offset the impact on federal deficits as much as possible.
They are the second and third Senate Democrats to come out publicly in recent days in favor of extending all the tax breaks for the time being. Sen. Evan Bayh (D., Ind.) made similar comments last week.”
Madoff’s Ghost Still Haunts SEC [Washington Wire/WSJ]
In testimony earlier in the week, SEC Chair Mary Schapiro told a congressional committee that many of the people that investigated Bernie Madoff – 15 of 20 enforcement attorneys and 19 of 36 examination staffers – have left the Commission. However, that isn’t good enough for Rep. Bill Posey (R – FL).
“Republican Rep. Bill Posey of Florida –- home to many Madoff victims -– said he wants to know if those SEC employees ended up at other regulatory agencies, working for companies they were supposed to regulate, or retired with government pensions.
‘There’s a necessity to know where they went,; said Posey. ‘It’s like letting a pedophile slink out the door or change neighborhoods. We’re dealing with the same type of problem here.’
Schapiro strongly disagreed. ‘These aren’t bad people. In some cases they were people who were very junior and not adequately trained or supervised.’ In other cases, she said, they were pulled from one project to another.”
Despite the proclivities of some SEC employees, we haven’t seen anything warrant that particular label.
FASB in “religious war” to bring in fair value [Accountancy Age]
Lawrence Smith believes in fair value, you might say, in a fanatical sense. The FASB Member was quoted in AA, “Some people have advised us that we shouldn’t say this, but I’ll say it – fair value, to some of us, is almost like a religious war out there and we are trying to deal with that as best we can.”
Plus, at the rate things are going, the debate will soon reach Israel/Palestinian ignorability (word?) levels later this year.
Facebook IPO “when makes sense”, Zuckerberg tells ABC [Reuters]
That is, never.
Trust, but verify [MJS]
Just last week we mentioned the American Bankers Association and its efforts to undermine the FASB’s latest fair value proposal that, in the ABA’s mind, could bring down civilization as we know it.
Because of this danger, the ABA encouraged “investors” through email and on its website to write individual letters to the FASB, expressing their displeasure with the worst idea in the modern history of double-entry accounting. We say “investors” because the ABA not-so-subtly asked everyone (i.e. who felt the overwhelming urge to write Bob Herz & Co.) to refer to themselves as such.
Further, the ABA provided a template of a letter to send to the Board for the “investors,” however, it did warn to resist using the example as their own because A) this is far too important and telling the FASB that fair value pains you in the deepness of your soul and takes food out of your children’s mouths will be a far more effective narrative; and B) the FASB hates form letters. HATES. So much so that Bob Herz rips up all his gold stars that he gives for the constructive letters he receives and then your unoriginal ass gets negative points.
The group urges investors to “write your own letter — the FASB does not appreciate ‘form’ letters, and often discounts them in their analyses.”
Simple enough, right? Well, maybe. But In his column today, Jonathan Weil gives an example of one ABA soldier that wasn’t very good at following instructions:
Among the letter writers was Terry L. Stevens of Francesville, Indiana, who identified himself as a bank investor, as the ABA had suggested. He didn’t mention that he also is chief financial officer and executive vice president of Alliance Bank, a closely held lender in Francesville with $270 million of assets.
“As a bank investor, of utmost importance to me regarding the banks in which I own stock is their financial position, and transparent financial reporting is key in order for me to make investment decisions,” Stevens’ letter said. “With this in mind, I am writing to express my deep concerns and opposition to the portion of the proposal that requires all financial instruments to be marked to market.”
Stevens didn’t write those words himself. He copied them verbatim from a sample letter the ABA posted on its Web page. So, too, did a bunch of other bankers who submitted comment letters to the FASB opposing its proposal, notwithstanding the ABA’s warning that they shouldn’t do cut-and-paste jobs.
This had to be a mistake, right? This is far too important of an issue to the banks of this country that a mishap like this could just happen. Bankers are responsible people that take this stuff very seriously and would never risk going through the motions just to serve at the whims of their lobby’s voice…would they?
Stevens told me he didn’t have time to write his own letter from scratch. “The points that I grabbed out of their paragraphs did a good job of explaining how I felt about the situation,” he said.
Stealth Bankers Bomb as Anti-Reform Crusaders [Jonathan Weil/Bloomberg]