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Archive for the ‘accounting’ Category

Two Sets of Books Require Two Sets of Accounting Standards

Posted by Larry Doyle on December 8th, 2009 2:43 PM |

What was at the core of the current economic crisis?

The financial transactions embedded in the SIVs (structured investment vehicles) located off-balance sheet within our major financial institutions brought our country to its knees. As the securities housed in these SIVs plunged in value, Uncle Sam was forced to ride to the rescue and bail out Wall Street.

Uncle Sam’s bailing required not only billions in dollars but also the coordination and complicity of the accounting industry. The Federal Accounting Standards Board (FASB) knows that Congress, supported by Wall Street, jammed revised accounting standards in place in order to facilitate Uncle Sam’s bailout.

The FASB, in an attempt to save face and a degree of integrity, has pushed back on Wall Street by passing FAS 166 and 167 which would require investments in off-balance sheet vehicles to be brought on-balance sheet. The implementation of FAS 166 and 167 is imminent and would require financial institutions to set aside increased capital against selected assets.

UPDATE: FASB 166 and 167

Posted by Larry Doyle on December 4th, 2009 11:27 AM |

Is Wall Street getting a reprieve from the capital constraints that would be effected by the implementation of FASB 166 and 167? I first broached this topic a month ago in writing, “12th Street Capital Reviews FASB 166 and 167 and Tells Us Why Wall Street Will Need More Capital”:

In brief, FASB 166 and 167 will require hundreds of billions in assets to be moved from off-balance sheet vehicles onto the balance sheets of the financial institutions. As those assets, which are embedded in an array of securitization transactions, come on balance sheet, the banks and non-banks alike will have to raise more capital to support the growth in their balance sheets. Best guesstimate is that the institutions will need to raise capital in the tens of billions.

12th Street Capital provides us updated developments on this very important topic with the following release: (more…)

I’ll Gladly Pay You Tuesday…

Posted by Larry Doyle on December 3rd, 2009 9:26 AM |

Postponing losses in hopes that one can trade out of them is a game very rarely won. In similar fashion, not acknowledging losses in hopes that the situation improves and the loss is mitigated is also a recipe for disaster. All one needs to do is look eastward to Japan to realize that. Ultimately, a loss not only must be realized, but paid. “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today …” may be cute in cartoons, but in the real world that approach never works. That said, this ‘delay to pay’ is the exact approach being utilized by Uncle Sam and, in large measure, by private industry.

Bloomberg’s Jonathan Weil once again distinguishes himself and provides great insight on this dynamic in writing, Fudging Losses is Easy When the FDIC Does It Too:

No wonder so many banks are delaying their losses. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. keeps showing them how, by doing the same thing with its own.

Last week the FDIC, led by Chairman Sheila Bair since 2006, said its insurance fund’s liabilities exceeded assets by $8.2 billion as of Sept. 30. That marked the first time since 1992 that the industry-financed fund had shown a deficit. There’s plenty of reason to believe its financial health is much worse.

How much worse? (more…)

IASB at Odds with FASB on ‘Extend and Pretend’

Posted by Larry Doyle on November 5th, 2009 3:15 PM |

Extend and pretend!!

What is that? In large measure, accounting practices for financial institutions in the United States promote practices which ‘extend’ the terms of the loan or asset while ‘pretending’ as to the real value of that loan or asset.

Regardless of what one thinks about the integrity of these business and accounting practices, the fact of the matter is they are prevalent in our financial industry today.

As I referenced in writing about the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) yesterday, I believe this board felt emasculated in having the relaxation of the fair value mark-to-market rammed down its throat by Wall Street and Congress.

There is another accounting board which has a decidedly different take on the accounting of financial assets. Who might that be? Let me introduce you to the International Accounting Standards Board, otherwise known as the IASB. (more…)

12th Street Capital Reviews FASB 166 and 167 and Tells Us Why Wall Street Will Need More Capital

Posted by Larry Doyle on November 4th, 2009 12:00 PM |

Money makes the world go round. Right now the world is not going around all that well because there is neither sufficient capital nor sufficient demand for capital from a global standpoint. That said, profits and bonuses are back on Wall Street so they must have sufficient capital, right? Not so fast.

While our wizards in Washington and on Wall Street are projecting an image of ‘come on in, the water’s fine,’ a crowd based in Norwalk, Connecticut has plans that hold major implications for our markets and economy. What crowd is this? The Financial Accounting Standards Board, otherwise known as FASB.

Recall that last spring Congress, supported by a heavy influence from Wall Street, rammed through a relaxation of the FASB’s accounting rule requiring fair value mark-to-market accounting. Regardless of what you think of that  legislation, I think there is no doubt that the change allowed banks to mismark a wide array of assets and forestall losses.  The need for the accounting rule change could be and will be debated ad nauseum. I believe the powers that be at FASB felt emasculated in the process.

Fast forward and let’s review the next major piece of accounting legislation emanating from FASB. That being FASB 166 and 167.  I will admit I am no accountant, but I understand enough about the markets and accounting to know that the implementation of these rules, scheduled to go into effect in January of 2010 (in November 2009 for certain institutions depending on their fiscal calendar), will likely have a major impact on a wide array of financial institutions. (more…)

Financial Chicanery and Accounting Charades

Posted by Larry Doyle on October 1st, 2009 11:38 AM |

Financial chicanery and accounting charades come in all shapes and sizes. From mismarking trading positions on Wall Street to running massive Ponzi schemes and with many other stops along the way, the games people play to accrue false profits and cover real losses are endless. That said, all this artifice ultimately does end as the true value, or lack thereof, of the underlying assets is flushed out. For this very reason, I remain extremely concerned about the economy and overly conservative in my approach to the markets.

While we could debate at length about the necessity and efficacy of the FASB’s relaxation of the mark-to-market accounting for bank assets, ultimately the accounting will not truly matter. Why? The value of the assets on the banks’ balance sheets will find their true level. In the process, the banks will be sufficiently capitalized, or not. My bet is that many more of these banks will not be sufficiently well capitalized. Additionally, do not expect bank examiners and regulators to share this information.

I see clear evidence of this exact scenario in reading Bloomberg’s esteemed columnist Jonathan Weil’s commentary, Banks Have Us Flying Blind on Depth of Losses:

There was a stunning omission from the government’s latest list of “problem” banks, which ran to 416 lenders, a 15-year high, as of June 30. One outfit not on the list was Georgian Bank, the second-largest Atlanta-based bank, which supposedly had plenty of capital.

It failed last week.

Georgian’s clean-up will be unusually costly. The book value of Georgian’s assets was $2 billion as of July 24, about the same as the bank’s deposit liabilities, according to a Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. press release. The FDIC estimates the collapse will cost its insurance fund $892 million, or 45 percent of the bank’s assets. That percentage was almost double the average for this year’s 95 U.S. bank failures, and it was the highest among the 10 largest ones.

Do you think Georgian Bank was a special situation that somehow slipped past the accountants, examiners, and regulators? If you believe that, I have some AAA sub-prime CDOs for you that really look like good value.

What do we learn with the failure of Georgian? As Weil attests:

The cost of Georgian’s failure confirms that the bank’s asset values were too optimistic. It also helps explain why the FDIC, led by Chairman Sheila Bair, is resorting to extraordinary measures to replenish its battered insurance fund.

How many other ‘Georgians’ are out there? Plenty. The material difference amidst the banking system is the composition of the loan and investment portfolios of different institutions. Despite the fact that the FASB, pressured by Congress and Wall Street, has allowed banks to utilize chicanery and charades to cloud our view, fortunately we have journalists like Jonathan Weil to provide some clarity.

Might we be able to get Mr. Weil to shed some light on “Analyst Exposes Wells Fargo Balance Sheet Charade”?


More Wall Street and Washington Incest

Posted by Larry Doyle on September 17th, 2009 1:15 PM |

The other day I saluted Judge Jed Rakoff for exposing the embedded hypocrisy and contrivance in the $33 million settlement paid by Bank of America to the SEC. Why don’t we have more judges with the courage and integrity to expose the incestuous nature of the Wall Street-Washington relationship? Great question. As an example of this incest, Bloomberg’s Jonathan Weil exposes the pathetic performance of Judge Robert Chatigny, from the U.S. District Court in Hartford, in his adjudication of a fraudulent accounting case brought by the SEC against General Electric. Weil writes, GE’s Fraud Case Could Use the Judge Gone Wild:

Finally a judge has dared say no to the once-venerable Securities and Exchange Commission and one of its cozy corporate settlements.

If that wasn’t novel enough, this fellow first had the nerve to ask the SEC a bunch of questions about the way it does its business. Turns out, he got a lot of embarrassing answers about the government’s investigation of Bank of America Corp that the SEC hadn’t planned to tell the rest of us about.

This jurist gone wild, now a folk hero of sorts, is U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff. But before we go further, let me tell you a quick story about another judge, this one at the U.S. District Court in Hartford, Connecticut.

His name is Robert Chatigny. On Aug. 4, he was assigned a settled complaint the SEC filed that day against General Electric Co. Under the deal, GE agreed to pay $50 million of its shareholders’ money to resolve the agency’s claims that it had committed accounting fraud. The SEC didn’t name any actual people as defendants. We don’t know if it ever will. Chatigny approved the agreement six days later, with no hearing and no questions asked. GE neither admitted nor denied the allegations.

That’s how SEC cases usually go. And just think how much more we the public — and certainly GE shareholders — deserve to know about this supposed fraud. Who at the company committed it? Why hasn’t the SEC sued them? Doesn’t the SEC know who they are? Why aren’t they paying fines out of their own pockets? And why wasn’t Chatigny asking these kinds of questions?

I tried calling Chatigny yesterday to ask him. His law clerk said he couldn’t be reached for comment.

Why do firms such as GE or BofA commit these frauds or promote shoddy business practices? Because it is worth it. How so? The returns generated far exceed the potential fines or penalties imposed, so the practices continue.

The fact that Judge Chatigny or those of his ilk do not truly hold companies and individuals to account gives a quasi-green light for firms to continue to push the envelope. Who pays? Shareholders and the public at large. What are the real costs? The erosion of integrity and principle in the pursuit of profit. Who benefits? Individuals within these corporations and those in Washington who conveniently look the other way as these frauds play out.

I commend Jonathan Weil for once again shedding light into another dark, dank, dismal corner of American finance. We need more judges like Jed Rakoff and we need more journalists like Jonathan Weil.


Smoothing Out Earnings is Finance-Speak for ‘Cooking the Books’

Posted by Larry Doyle on September 14th, 2009 2:41 PM |

When I hear financial industry insiders opine that they need vehicles and procedures which allow them to ‘smooth earnings,’ I get very suspicious. Why? That very thought process was the business model which led to the failures of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

I witness it again in Bloomberg’s commentary, Beware Bankers Spinning Story of Smooth Results:

The financial results that companies give investors are supposed to paint a picture of how things are. Banks and their regulators want to turn that notion on its head so they can spin a smooth tale of how they would like things to be.

Sadly, some accounting rule makers may be ready to appease banks and the politicians who back them. If that happens, financial results will change from a vital tool for investors to a vehicle catering to managers, regulators and employees.

The practical result of such approaches would be to allow banks to report smoother results that supposedly reflect their long-term prospects. For banks, smoother profits would presumably lead to higher share prices. For regulators, less volatile results would supposedly make it easier to maintain financial stability.

Make no mistake, these accounting procedures are merely a formula for the continuation of a ‘heads we win, tails you lose’ approach which was so prevalent in causing this crisis in the first place.

Investors should not be so naive as to think otherwise. If these procedures are fully implemented, then rigorous risk management will go right out the window and prospects for real, long term economic prosperity along with it.

Regrettably, I have little confidence that the ‘wizards in Washington’ have the intellectual capacity, the moral fortitude and unquestioned integrity to take this issue on and truly protect the American public.


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