Saturday, 14 March 2009

Accounting for the dead

I have a terrible confession. I have never liked Elvis. But aside from dead musicians, Bloomberg is doing a great job on chronicling the absurdities of accrual. David Reilly says:
Of the $8.46 trillion in assets held by the 12 largest banks in the KBW Bank Index, only 29 percent is marked to market prices, according to my analysis of company data. General Electric Co., meanwhile, said last week that just 2 percent of assets were marked to market at its General Electric Capital Corp. subsidiary, which is similar in size to the sixth-biggest U.S. bank.

What are all those other assets that aren’t marked to market prices? Mostly loans -- to homeowners, businesses and consumers.

...investors already believe banks are underestimating just how bad losses will be on their unmarked loans. GE investors, for example, fled the stock due to concerns over its corporate loans and lending to Eastern Europe.

If investors could get a better sense of the losses actually facing GE, they might have more confidence in its financial strength. In other words, we need more mark-to-market accounting, not less.

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