Lenders have been hammered by the pathologically procyclical impact of FAS 157’s mark-to-market regime. Hardly surprising, therefore, that banks and credit unions came out in force to support the latest FASB “clarification” of FAS 157. Some other commenters, mostly from the “analyst” community, emphatically disagree.
Johnathan Weil called on Citigroup today to “properly confess” the “rot on Citigroup’s $2.1 trillion balance sheet.” Weil is sure the rot is there because if it weren’t Citigroup “wouldn’t have needed last week’s government rescue [including] a new $20 billion investment by the Treasury Department, plus a guarantee covering about $306 billion of the bank’s assets against most losses.” I beg to differ.
The “rot” may well be an illusion created by poorly-drafted accounting principles applied in draconian fashion by auditors spooked by the specter of ruinous lawsuits. Citigroup’s request for government assistance may well be an appropriate strategic response to the illusion. In the market place, a good illusion beats a bad reality most any day.
Weil assumes facts not in evidence and arguably misapplies SEC regulations in demanding the Citi book losses now. Under SEC rules, Citigroup would be obligated to “confess” losses on Form 8-K only if Citi’s board concludes that a material charge for impairment is required under generally accepted accounting principles. If the board either has concluded that such a charge is not required or has not yet concluded that one is, no Form 8-K confession is called for. Continue reading
Some commentators — including Lynn Turner — have pointed out that Section 132 of the bailout draft appears to be an effort by Congress to empower the SEC to immediately suspend mark-to-market accounting, bypassing normal due process rule making with an “order” that would not require public notice or comment. Continue reading