I am of the strong opinion that the relaxation of the FASB’s mark-to-market accounting standard is nothing short of an allowance for banks to “cook their books.” Well, it now appears that the banking chefs are whipping up a “second course.” The Wall Street Journal opens the door to the kitchen and reports, Banks Try to Stiff-Arm New Rule:
The financial-services industry is taking steps to delay an accounting rule that would force banks and others to bring some of their off-balance-sheet vehicles back onto their books next year, which could force some to raise additional capital.
A group that includes the Chamber of Commerce, the Mortgage Bankers Association, and the American Council of Life Insurers and others sent a letter on June 1 to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, regarding the off-balance-sheet accounting-rule change, saying it should be adopted “cautiously and seek to minimize any chilling effect on our frozen credit markets.”
The letter was signed by 16 industry associations, many of which were part of a group known as the “Fair Value Coalition,” which was formed earlier this year with the goal of changing mark-to-market accounting rules. Mark-to-market accounting rules set guidelines for banks on when they are required to reflect market prices in the values they assign to hard-to-value securities and other assets.
Please recall that the massive leverage within the banking industry was largely housed within these off-balance sheet vehicles (SPVs, special purpose vehicles). The lack of transparency of these vehicles allowed banks to leverage their assets to greater than a 30:1 ratio. Regulators and rating agencies were totally remiss in fully exposing these vehicles and protecting investors. We have all paid for it.
The banks and Washington jointly conspired to pressure FASB to relax the mark-to-market accounting rule so the industry could alleviate the pressure of raising capital. I detailed that “course” just yesterday in writing Wall Street-Washington: “Pay to Play.”
We hardly had time to digest that “inedible” piece of meat and now understand our chefs are working to continue the lack of transparency within the industry. Regrettably, our Congressional watchdogs have been more than happy to accept perfunctory campaign contributions and lobbying dollars to facilitate this charade.
The WSJ takes a whiff of what is simmering and reports:
Some accounting experts say they aren’t surprised by the banking industry’s latest effort. “Here we go again. They will get out their checkbooks and go to the Hill,” says Lynn Turner, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s former chief accountant.
At what point do the patrons get some representation, drop these meals in the garbage, fire the chefs and staff, and hang out the “Condemned: Department of Health” sign?