Big rewrite of accounting fair value ruled out

BRUSSELS - A rewrite of an accounting rule blamed by critics for sparking big writedowns among banks is ruled out in favour of better guidance on how to apply it, a top standard-setter said.

By (Reuters)

Published: Thu 10 Jul 2008, 6:36 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 12:48 PM

The International Accounting Standards Board draws up accounting rules used in more than 100 countries and which are mandatory for the 8,000 companies listed in the European Union. The United States is also warming to adoption of the rules.

The rule on "fair value" or "mark to market" is used for the hardest assets to value, such as mortgage-backed securities whose market dried up due to defaults on home loans underpinning them.

Banks devised models to estimate the worth of untraded assets, helping to trigger writedowns of more than $300 billion that still rattle investors a year after the U.S. subprime crisis gathered steam.

"We are certainly not thinking of any emergency measures to change what we do at present," IASB board chairman David Tweedie told Reuters on Wednesday evening.

"I think the commentators are largely backing that, including the regulators, that this is not the time to make drastic changes quickly," Tweedie said.

The Institute for International Finance, a banking lobby, wants an urgent rethink of standards that force banks to put a price on little-traded instruments.

Goldman Sachs described the IIF plan to change fair-value standards as "Alice in Wonderland accounting" and walked out of the IIF in June.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales said earlier this week perspective was needed.

"It's no good criticising mark to market accounting simply for bringing out bad news," Mark Rhys, of ICAEW's financial services faculty, told the Centre for European Policy Studies.

"Concerns over the reliability of valuations in the current market do not justify setting aside fair value as alternative measures are unlikely to be more reliable and may prolong market uncertainty," Rhys said.

Tweedie said the debate had moved on to what sort of guidance the IASB could formally or informally endorse in coming weeks for applying fair value.

Some want "circuit breakers", or a suspension of the rule in unusual circumstances. "The board is not going to do anything like that," Tweedie said.

Carve-out days numbered

EU finance ministers called on Tuesday for Europe to have more say in how the IASB draws up new standards generally. Gerrit Zalm, IASB trustees chairman, described this as a "positive contribution" to the standard-setter's constitutional review.

Still, the IASB proposed on Wednesday that the board have defined geographic representation for the first time and be increased to 16 from 14.

Europe would stay with four members -- like North America and Asia -- while South America and Africa would each have a member for the first time. The remaining two seats would not be allocated by region.

The days of the EU's "carve out" from the IAS 39 rule on evaluating fair value of hedged assets are also numbered. Nearly 30 of the EU's 8,000 listed companies use the carve out.

"Some of the banks felt that some of the things they want to do they feel they can't, but other banks say of course you can. It seems this standard is ambiguous and not clear enough," Tweedie said.

The rule will be reworked to scrap the carve out so that IASB rules can become uniformly applied across the world and cemented as the global accounting standard.

"It's removing unclear paragraphs and bringing others in to clarify the situation. That wouldn't be a big thing, we could do it quite quickly. It would be a matter of months rather than years," Tweedie said.

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