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Fair value accounting and the credit crisis.
Subject:
Accounting (Laws, regulations and rules)
Authors:
Casabona, Patrick
Shoaf, Victoria
Pub Date:
03/22/2010
Publication:
Name: Review of Business Publisher: St. John's University, College of Business Administration Audience: General; Trade Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Business; Business, general Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 St. John's University, College of Business Administration ISSN: 0034-6454
Issue:
Date: Spring, 2010 Source Volume: 30 Source Issue: 2
Topic:
Event Code: 930 Government regulation; 940 Government regulation (cont); 980 Legal issues & crime; 010 Forecasts, trends, outlooks Advertising Code: 94 Legal/Government Regulation Computer Subject: Government regulation; Market trend/market analysis
Product:
Product Code: 9915400 Accounting Methods SIC Code: 8721 Accounting, auditing, & bookkeeping
Geographic:
Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States

Accession Number:
232824948
Full Text:
Executive Summary

A number of criticisms have been made to the U.S. Congress about the Financial Accounting Standards Board's (FASB's) fair value accounting rules and their possible contribution to the financial losses incurred in the credit crisis. In conjunction with an investigation by the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), "Report and Recommendations Pursuant to Section 133 of the EESA of 2008: Study on Mark-to-Market Accounting," which reaffirmed the soundness of fair value reporting, the FASB issued new pronouncements to clarify the application of fair value measurement in unstable markets. They provide guidance on:

* estimating the fair value of an asset or liability when the volume and level of activity for the asset or liability have significantly decreased and transactions are not orderly

* improving disclosures about the fair value of financial instruments for interim and annual financial statements

* assessing whether a debt security is other than temporarily impaired and measuring the amount of the other than temporary impairment that is recorded in earnings;

* clarifying the guidance on the fair value measurement of liabilities

* amending the guidance to investors in certain alternative investments (e.g., hedge funds, private equity funds, real estate funds, venture capital funds, offshore fund vehicles) that provide their investors with a net asset value per share

The FASB and the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) have accelerated their joint projects on fair value measurement of financial instruments and on financial statement presentation and disclosure, currently scheduled for completion by 2011.

Introduction

The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) has been moving toward fair value accounting for a number of years. Indeed, an extremely large and increasing number of Financial Accounting Standards (FAS) and other pronouncements include some requirement for the determination of fair value in reporting or disclosure. The issuance in September 2006 of FAS 157 (under the recent FASB Accounting Standards Codification, ASC 820) was merely intended to provide assistance to implementation of previous rules, as it tells how to measure fair value when applying standards that already require or permit fair value measurements or disclosures, but does not add any new requirements as to when fair value measures or disclosures are required. However, the coincidence of the implementation of FAS 157 during 2007 and 2008 and the financial crisis tended to focus public outrage on the fair value accounting rather than the underlying reality of inferior investments.

The ongoing crisis in the credit and financial markets which began mid-2007 has been characterized as the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression. Recent criticisms about the FASB's fair value accounting rules and their possible contribution to the financial losses incurred in the credit crisis have been provided to the U.S. Congress and various politicians during 2009 by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Bankers Association, American Council of Life Insurers, Financial Services Roundtable, real estate and home builders groups, and the Council of Federal Home Loan Banks, among other organizations. They believe that the inability of businesses, investors, and government to properly value assets--especially in increasingly inactive and disorderly markets--has created uncertainty, resulted in the fair values of certain assets being underestimated, and caused a loss of confidence by many market participants. They have expressed their concerns for the need to correct the unintended consequences of mark-to-market accounting, especially related to determining fair value for illiquid assets in unstable markets, and the need for enhanced transparency in the form of more meaningful disclosures.

The FASB, the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB), and the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) have taken a number of steps since 2008 in response to these concerns to facilitate meaningful measurement, reporting and disclosure rules in these turbulent times. In this paper, we briefly discuss the role of fair value accounting in the credit crisis, recent guidance issued by the FASB to improve fair value accounting, and regulatory steps that have been taken to enable financial reporting to be more truthful and expedient.

The Role of Fair Value Accounting in the Credit Crisis

Supporters of fair value accounting argue that its application allows users to see the underlying economic reality in a changing environment, whereas carrying assets at their original costs masks the unpleasant truth of declining values. In a 2007 interview, KPMG Partner Theresa Ahlstrom notes that fair value accounting "provides users of financial statements with a clearer picture of the current economic state of a company, making a company's financial statements more useful or 'relevant' in the marketplace" (Casabona 2007). Mary Barth reflects the position of the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) toward fair value accounting: "Fair values are relevant because they reflect present economic conditions, i.e., the conditions under which the users will make their decisions" (Barth 2006). Even those who oppose fair value accounting recognize that it is not the cause of the credit crisis (see, for instance, Gingrich 2008); however, they contend that its application in a declining economy creates a domino effect that accelerates the decline, and that the determination of market value in an unstable market is problematic. Gingrich (2008), for instance, observes that in distress sales, "the market-bottom prices ... become the new standard for the valuation of all similar securities held by other companies under mark-to-market" and, he points out, the result is "a downward death spiral for financial companies large and small."

In addressing the role of fair value accounting in the credit crisis, it is important to understand its magnitude and its application. First of all, a large number of assets and liabilities reported in the balance sheet are measured and either reported or disclosed at fair value, and are within the scope of FAS 157. The following are examples of these items, whose fair values were most impacted by current economic environment: investments in debt and equity investments, loans and receivables, derivatives, pension fund assets, auction rate securities, asset-backed securities, goodwill and other intangible assets as well as financial liabilities (including certain guarantees). In addition, the current credit crisis and weakened economy may have adversely affected impairment tests of all investments and assets, including goodwill and intangible assets and property plant and equipment.

While there are a large number of assets and liabilities reported or disclosed in financial statements, the percentages of these items and the dollar impact on earnings may not have been exorbitant for most companies, except for financial institutions. In 2008, only 27% of the total assets of the S&P 500 companies that had adopted FAS 157 were actually reported at fair value (Zion et al. 2009). While this represents about $6.6 trillion in assets, it is still a relatively small percentage of the assets. Because of the mixed attribute model used in U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), some assets are measured using fair values while others--even very similar assets--are measured at cost, or amortized cost, or by some other measure. The nature of the assets held by these companies determined, to a large extent, their exposure to risk in the credit crisis. Companies in the financial sector had a much larger number of fair valued assets (39%) than did, for instance, companies in consumer staples (2%). Even within the financial sector, investment banks and insurance companies, most of whose assets are reported at fair value, were impacted more than commercial banks, whose largest asset is generally loans, which are not reported at fair value.

Although the average percentage of assets subject to fair value accounting was relatively small, the effect of marking these assets to a declining market value was enormous, especially in some sectors. Some financial services companies carried up to 80% of their assets in 2008 at fair value (Zion et al. 2009). Even companies closer to the industry average were greatly impacted. For example, in its 10-K of December 31, 2008, BNY Mellon reported securities losses of $1.6 billion for 2008, compared to $201 million in 2007. BNY Mellon adopted FAS 157 on January 1, 2008, but in its MD&A, BNY Mellon (1) clearly attributes these losses to the failing economy:

The sharp difference between its 2007 and 2008 losses raises the question of the efficacy of BNY Mellon adopting FAS 157 at this time, despite its attribution of loss to economic conditions.

The Initial Response

In view of the loss of confidence caused by the inability of businesses, investors and government to properly value assets in inactive and disorderly markets, and the need to correct the unintended consequences of mark-to-market accounting, the Office of the Chief Accountant of the SEC and the FASB staff jointly issued a press release on September 30, 2008--SEC Release 2008-234: SEC Office of the Chief Accountant and FASB Staff Clarifications on Fair Value Accounting, September--that provided financial statement users, preparers, and auditors with clarification on the application of fair value accounting. They emphasized the need for preparers and auditors to be less conservative in assessments and for preparers to use more judgment in valuing assets, including their own financial models, if no market exists or if assets are being sold only at "fire-sale" prices (Scannell 2008).

The FASB followed up on October 10, 2008, with the posting of FASB Staff Position (FSP) FAS 157-3, Determining the Fair Value of a Financial Asset When the Market for That Asset Is Not Active [ASC 820-10-35-55A-51. The information included in this pronouncement was consistent with, and amplified, the guidance contained in the press release. However, since it did not provide users with sufficient direction in measuring fair value in illiquid and unstable markets, this guidance was replaced by FSP FSA 157-4 (ASC 820-10), Determining Fair Value When the Volume and Level of Activity for the Asset or Liability Have Significantly Decreased and Identifying Transactions That Are Not Orderly, in April 2009, as discussed below.

At almost the same time, on October 3, 2008, the U.S. Congress enacted H.R. 1424, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (EESA) of 2008. The EESA of 2008, commonly referred to as a bailout of the U.S. financial system, is a law enacted in response to the global financial crisis of 2008, authorizing the United States Secretary of the Treasury to spend up to $700 billion to purchase distressed assets, especially mortgage-backed securities, and to make capital injections into banks. Asset purchases are to be made through the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), which is administered by the newly formed Office of Financial Stability. The goals of TARP include: (a) stabilization of the economy, (b) homeownership preservation, (c) tax payer protection, (d) elimination of windfalls for executives and (e) strong oversight.

The EESA grants authority to the SEC to suspend FAS 157 [ASC 820]. It also required the SEC to conduct a study of mark-to-market accounting, which would consider:

* the impact of accounting standards on bank failures

* the process used by FASB in developing accounting standards

* modifications or alternatives to existing standards

The SEC held Roundtable meetings on mark-to-market accounting and current market conditions to provide input to this study, and in December 2008 it completed the study, "Report and Recommendations Pursuant to Section 133 of the EESA of 2008: Study on Mark-to-Market Accounting," in accordance with the EESA requirements. The SEC delivered the results to Congress on December 30, 2008. The report addresses six key issues:

1. The effect of fair value accounting standards on financial institutions' balance sheets.

2. The effect of fair value accounting on bank failures in 2008.

3. Fair value accounting on the quality of financial information available to investors.

4. The process the FASB follows to develop accounting standards.

5. Alternatives to fair value accounting standards.

6. The advisability and feasibility of modifications to fair value accounting standards.

The report concludes that existing mark-to-market accounting should not be suspended; noting that because investors have indicated that fair value accounting provides transparent and timely information that is useful in making informed decisions, an abrupt removal of fair value accounting would erode investor confidence in financial reporting.

The SEC report makes several important recommendations, which are expected to impact the FASB's future activities, including:

* improve fair value accounting standards

* improve the application of existing fair value requirements

* readdress the accounting for financial asset impairments

* establish formal measures to address the operation of existing accounting standards in practice

* implement further guidance to foster the use of sound judgment of practitioners

* address the need to simplify the accounting for investments in financial assets

The SEC report also recommends that the FASB and International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) fast-track their joint projects on financial statement presentation and disclosure, which is currently scheduled for completion by 2011.

Increased Pressure to Improve Fair Value Accounting

Despite the efforts made by the SEC and FASB to clarify application

and the recommendations made in the SEC study to improve fair value accounting, criticisms of this practice continued to emerge as the credit crisis deepened in early 2009, the financial markets deteriorated further, and the economy headed for a deep recession. This unrest led to the introduction on March 5, 2009, of a House bill, HR 1349, the Federal Accounting Oversight Board Act, which was drafted by Colorado Democrat Ed Perlmutter and Oklahoma Republican Frank Lucas. Its provisions would significantly increase the government's oversight over how accounting rules are applied. The SEC would cede its accounting-oversight powers to a newly created Federal Accounting Oversight Board (FAOB). The FAOB would consist of five top regulators: the Secretary of the Treasury, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, the chairman of the SEC, the chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., and the chairman of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. The bill states that if another federal financial regulatory agency determines that an accounting rule has an adverse effect on the safety and soundness of the entities it regulates, the health of the United States financial system, or the economy, it may request authorization from the FAOB to review such standard. The FAOB would have the power to determine whether the rule should continue to be applied or be removed on either a temporary or permanent basis, which could strip FASB of its rulemaking and rule revising role.

During a hearing held on March 12, 2009, on mark-to-market accounting, certain members of the House Subcommittee on Capital Markets, Insurance, and Government Sponsored Enterprises demanded that the FASB fix mark-to-market accounting or they would propose legislation to fix it themselves. Since many of the complaints about mark-to-market accounting have focused on the problem of determining fair value for illiquid assets in inactive and unstable markets, the FASB and SEC had previously tried to highlight the flexibility that exists in FAS 157 [ASC 820] for estimating a fair value when markets are not active. Despite these efforts, the House Subcommittee gave the FASB three weeks from March 12 to come up with additional fair value guidance.

As a result of recommendations made in the SEC's December 2008 fair value study, recommendations from their Valuation Resource Group, Congressional House Subcommittee hearings and an increasing convergence of U.S. Accounting standards with those of the IASB, FASB immediately completed several of its "credit crisis" projects on fair value accounting and disclosure guidance:

* FSP FAS 157-4 (ASC 820-10), Determining Fair Value When the Volume and Level of Activity for the Asset or Liability Have Significantly Decreased and Identifying Transactions That Are Not Orderly

* FSP FAS 107-1 and APB 28-1 (ASC 825-10), Interim Disclosures about Fair Value of Financial Instruments

* FSP No. FAS 115-2 and FAS 124-2 (ASC 320-10), Recognition and Presentation of Other-Than-Temporary Impairment

* ASU 2009-05, Measuring Liabilities under FASB Statement 157

* ASU 2009-12, Investment in Certain Entities that Calculate Net Asset Value per Share (or Its Equivalent), exposed for comment in June 2009 and adopted in September 2009

Despite all of this effort from the FASB, during November 2009, Congress still considered the idea of making FASB subject to a new oversight body as the House Financial Services Committee worked to pass a proposed amendment to a sweeping financial regulatory bill (H.R. 3996). An original draft of the amendment, co-sponsored by Reps. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) and Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), would have significantly impinged on the independence of the FASB by allowing a new federal council of risk regulators to override accounting standards during times of extreme financial stress. However, because of concerns by the accounting profession and others, the House committee subsequently modified the bill on November 19 to allow the new Financial Services Oversight Council (that would be created by H.R. 3996) to only make recommendations to the SEC about new and proposed accounting standards they feel may adversely affect the U.S. financial system.

The New Pronouncements and their Effects

FSP FAS 157-4 [ASC 820-10-35-51A-51H] provides additional guidance on estimating the fair value of an asset or liability when the volume and level of activity for the asset or liability have significantly decreased, and identifying transactions that are not orderly. It applies to all assets and liabilities (financial and non-financial) within the scope of accounting pronouncements that require or permit fair value measurements in accordance with FAS 157 [ASC 820], but it does not apply to quoted prices for an identical asset or liability in an active market (that is, a Level 1 input). For example, although the volume and level of activity for an asset or liability may significantly decrease, transactions for the asset or liability may still occur with sufficient frequency and volume to provide pricing information on an ongoing basis.

It is important to note that the FSP does not change the objective of fair value measurements when market activity declines. Instead, the FSP emphasizes that fair value is the price that would be received to sell an asset or paid to transfer a liability in an orderly transaction (that is, not a forced liquidation or distressed sale) between market participants at the measurement date under current market conditions. This reinforces FASB 157 (ASC 820) guidance that fair value is a current market-based measurement and not an entity-specific or hypothetical future market-based measurement. The FSP also includes an example that provides additional explanation on estimating fair value when the market activity for an asset has declined significantly, which is consistent with the newly stated objectives.

FSP FAS 157-4 provides application guidance to assess whether the volume and level of activity for the asset or liability have significantly decreased when compared with normal market conditions. This assessment should consider whether there are factors present that indicate that the market for the asset is not active at the measurement date, such as:

* There are few recent transactions based on volume and level of activity in the market

* Price quotations are not based on current information

* Price quotations vary substantially either over time or among market makers (for example, some brokered markets)

* There is a significant increase in implied liquidity risk premiums, yields, or performance indicators (such as delinquency rates or loss severities)

* There is a significant decline or absence of a market for new issuances

These factors are not all inclusive. Refer to paragraph 12 of ASC 820 [FSP 157-4] for a listing of factors an entity should consider. Note that preparers will need to use judgment in determining whether the market is active.

If, based on analysis, it is judged that there has been a significant decrease in the volume and level of activity, the quoted price may not be determinative of fair value and may require a significant adjustment.

FASB 157 does not prescribe a specific approach in calculating the adjustment to the quoted price, but it does recommend three valuation techniques (that is, market, income and/or cost approach) that may be used to estimate fair value. FSP FAS 157-4 clarifies that the valuation technique may be changed or multiple valuation techniques may be used in determining fair value when there has been a significant decline in the volume and level of activity. According to paragraph ASC 820-10-35-51A-51C:

Note, however, that even if there has been a significant decrease in the volume and level of activity for an asset or liability, it is not appropriate to conclude that all transactions are not orderly (that is, distressed or forced). Therefore, it must be determined whether or not a quoted price (that is, a recent transaction or broker price quotation) is orderly or not (i.e., associated with a distressed transaction) by considering the available evidence (events and circumstances) for the given quoted price. For example, you must assess whether factors such as the following exist, to determine if a transaction is not orderly:

* There was not an adequate exposure to market (before the measurement date) to allow for marketing activities for the asset that are usual and customary under current conditions

* The seller marketed the asset to only a single buyer

* The seller is in or near bankruptcy or receivership, or required to sell the asset to meet regulatory requirements (that is, a forced transaction)

* The transaction price is an outlier when compared with other recent transactions (for same or similar assets or liabilities)

Note that entities may consider additional factors in addition to those explained in FSP FAS 157-4. But the evaluation of the circumstances to determine whether the transaction is orderly is based on the weight of the evidence, which may be more difficult if there has been a significant decrease in the volume and level of activity for the asset or liability. However, if based on the weight of evidence an entity concludes that the transaction is not orderly, little if any weight should be given to the transaction in estimating fair value. If the transaction is considered orderly, then it should be considered in determining fair value, although it may not be used as the "sole" or "primary" basis for determining fair value in an inactive market. Also note that the fair value measurement should include appropriate risk adjustments (market participant view), including a premium for liquidity risk.

FSP FAS 107-1 and APB 28-1, Interim Disclosures about Fair Value of Financial Instruments, amends FAS 107, Disclosures about Fair Value of Financial Instruments, to require disclosures about fair value of financial instruments for interim reporting periods of publicly traded companies, as well as in annual financial statements. It also amends APB Opinion No. 28, Interim Financial Reporting, to require those disclosures in summarized financial information at interim reporting periods. The requirement is to disclose in the body or in the accompanying notes of its summarized financial information for interim reporting periods and in its financial statements for annual reporting periods the fair value of all financial instruments for which it is practicable to estimate that value, whether recognized or not recognized in the statement of financial position, as required by FAS 107. Fair value information disclosed in the notes should be presented together with the related carrying amount, in a form that makes it clear whether the fair value and carrying amount represent assets or liabilities, and how the carrying amount relates to what is reported in the statement of financial position. It requires the disclosure of the methods and valuation techniques used to measure fair value, and a discussion of any changes in valuation techniques and related inputs, if any, during the period. The disclosure must include the major categories of equity and debt securities, based on the nature and risks of the security. For financial institutions, the categories would include, at a minimum:

* Equity securities (segregated by industry type, company size, or investment objective

* Debt securities issued by the U.S. Treasury and other U.S. government corporations and agencies

* Debt securities issued by states of the United States and political subdivisions of the states

* Debt securities issued by foreign governments

* Corporate debt securities

* Residential mortgage-backed securities

* Commercial mortgage-backed securities

* Collateralized debt obligations

Also note that FASB Accounting Standards Update (ASU) 2010-06, Improving Disclosures About Fair Value Measurements, was issued in January 2010. ASU 2010-06 amends ASC 820 (formerly Statement 157) to add new requirements for disclosures about transfers into and out of Levels 1 and 2, and separate disclosures about purchases, sales, issuances, and settlements relating to Level 3 measurements. It also clarifies existing fair value disclosures about the level of disaggregation and about inputs and valuation techniques used to measure fair value.

The third FSP issued in April 2009, FSP FAS 115-2 and FAS 124-2, Recognition and Presentation of Other Than Temporary Impairments, provides guidance on how to determine whether the holder of an investment in a debt security for which changes in fair value are not regularly recognized in earnings (such as securities classified as held-to-maturity or available-for-sale) should recognize a loss in earnings when the investment is impaired. An investment is impaired if the fair value of the investment is less than its amortized cost basis. FSP FAS 115-2 and FAS 124-2 eliminates the old requirement for the preparer to assert the intent and ability to hold a debt investment (whose fair value is less than its amortized cost basis) until forecasted recovery to avoid recognizing an impairment loss. Instead, it turns the intent and ability assertion around. If the preparer either (a) intends to sell the security, or (b) more likely than not will be required to sell the security before recovery of its amortized cost basis less any current-period credit loss (e.g., for working capital requirements or contractual or regulatory obligations), the OTTI will be recognized in earnings equal to the entire difference between the investment's amortized cost basis and its fair value at the balance sheet date. When a credit loss exists, but there is little likelihood of sale of the security, the total impairment is separated into (a) the amount of the total impairment related to the credit loss and (b) the amount of the total impairment related to all other factors, and the OTTI related to the credit loss is recognized in earnings. The amount of OTTI related to all other factors (e.g., illiquidity, change in interest rates) is recognized in a new component of other comprehensive income, reported separately from other unrealized gains and losses on available-for-sale securities, net of taxes. The total OTTI is presented in the statement of earnings with an offset for the amount recognized in other comprehensive income.

FSP FAS 115-2 and FAS 124-2 does not explain exactly how to determine the amount of credit loss; instead, it refers to FAS 114 [ASC 310-10-35], Accounting by Creditors for Impairment of a Loan. Under these rules, the loss is measured by taking the expected future cash flows from the instrument (as determined by the preparer), discounted at the instrument's original effective yield, and comparing it with the current value on the balance sheet (i.e., amortized cost). The difference is the credit loss (i.e., the present value of the expected future cash shortfalls). Clearly, this process is highly subjective. On the other hand, FSP FAS 115-2 and FAS 124-2 does not require that the methodology in FAS 114 [ASC 310-10-35] is used, so in theory different preparers could arrive at different credit losses on the same security (as presently occurs with the asset fair values). For certain interests in securitized assets, the reference is made to EITF 99-20 [ASC 325-40-35-4 and 35-5], Recognition of Interest Income and Impairment on Purchased Beneficial Interests and Beneficial Interests That Continue to Be Held by a Transfer in Securitized Financial Assets, for guidance on determining credit losses. As with the guidance in FAS 114 [ASC 310-10-35], preparers would use the present value of expected cash flows to estimate credit losses.

For both available-for-sale and held-to-maturity securities, if recovery subsequently occurs, the portion of the credit loss that was reported in earnings is treated as a prospective yield adjustment and is recovered over time (not all in one period) through higher interest income, as the discount that was created on the balance sheet by the impairment charge to the asset is accreted back into earnings over the remaining life of the asset (as in current practice). On held-to-maturity securities, the noncredit losses that are reported in other comprehensive income ("OCI") will also be reversed over time, but will not result in higher earnings. Instead, the debt discount will be accreted back through accumulated OCI. That is, the noncredit portion for held-to-maturity securities recorded in OCI will be amortized prospectively over the remaining life of the security as an increase to OCI and an increase to the investment balance. This new standard also enhances the disclosure requirements in FAS 115 [ASC 320], Accounting for Certain Investments in Debt and Equity Securities, and FSP FAS 115-1 and FAS 124-1, The Meaning of Other-Than-Temporary Impairment and Its Application to Certain Investments, which are now required for both annual and interim periods. ASU 2009-05, Measuring Liabilities at Fair Value, finalized in August 2009, clarifies FAS 157's (ASC 820's) guidance on the fair value measurement of liabilities. This standard indicates that if an identical liability is traded in an active market, the quoted price of that liability represents a Level 1 fair value measurement. If a quoted price for an identical liability traded in an active market is not available, an entity must use one of the following approaches to maximize the use of relevant observable inputs and minimize the use of unobservable inputs:

1. The "quoted price of the identical liability when traded as an asset in an active market."

2. The "quoted price of the identical liability or the identical liability when traded as an asset" in an inactive market.

3. The "quoted price for similar liabilities or similar liabilities when traded as assets" in an inactive market.

4. "Another valuation technique that is consistent with the principles of Statement 157," such as an income approach or a market approach.

The ASU emphasizes the importance of maximizing the use of relevant observable inputs and minimizing the use of unobservable inputs, regardless of the method employed. It specifies that restrictions on the transfer of the liability--unlike restrictions on the sale of an asset--should not result in a separate adjustment in estimating fair value, as the restriction is already factored into the price of the liability at inception. ASU 2009-12, Investment in Certain Entities that Calculate Net Asset Value per Share (or Its Equivalent), issued in September 2009 provides guidance to investors in certain alternative investments (e.g., hedge funds, private equity funds, real estate funds, venture capital funds, offshore fund vehicles) that provide their investors with a net asset value per share that has been calculated in a manner consistent with U.S. GAAP for investment companies [Topic 946 in the Codification]. Because of the complexities and practical difficulties in estimating fair value for these investments, this ASU permits using the net asset value per share of the investment if it has been calculated in a manner consistent with the measurement principles in Topic 946 (incorporated from the AICPA Audit and Accounting Guide, Investment Companies). Disclosures are required by major category of investment about the attributes of applicable investments, including the nature of any restrictions on redemption, any unfunded commitment, and the investment strategy of the investee.

The FASB and the IASB

Pursuant to the SEC's mark-to-market report (2008), in March 2009, the FASB and IASB announced that they will fast-track their efforts to reduce complexity in the accounting for financial instruments by replacing existing requirements with a simplified and improved approach. While it is a joint project, the Boards will continue to work separately and then reconcile their approaches as they develop.

In July 2009, the IASB issued an Exposure Draft (ED), Financial Instruments: Classification and Measurement, which was finalized as IFRS 9 on November 12, 2009. This standard is part of lASB's ongoing project to replace IAS 39, which includes an ED on derecognition (issued March 2009) and EDs on impairment and hedge accounting (forthcoming at the time this article was written).

IFRS 9 replaces the existing classification and measurement requirements in IAS 39, Financial Instruments: Recognition and Measurement, for financial assets. It changes the manner in which entities classify and measure investments in debt and equity securities, loan assets, trade receivables and derivative financial assets by requiring entities to classify financial assets as being measured at either amortized cost or fair value, depending on the entity's business model and the contractual cash flow characteristics of the asset.

The issuance of IFRS 9 represents the completion of the first phase of the IASB's project to replace IAS 39. The project addresses classification and measurement of financial assets as well as the accounting for financial liabilities, recognition and measurement of impairments, hedge accounting, and derecognition. The IASB expects to replace the remaining portions of IAS 39 during 2010.

At the same time, the FASB is developing proposals to replace the current accounting requirements for financial instruments under U.S. GAAP The FASB plans to issue a comprehensive exposure draft (ED) in the first quarter of 2010 that will address classification and measurement of financial instruments, as well as impairments and hedge accounting. In a Joint Statement issued by the FASB and the IASB on November 5, 2009, the two boards indicated that they are committed to working together on this project, and to issuing standards by the end of 2010 "that provide international comparability."

While there is similarity in many of the decisions reached by the FASB and the IASB on simplifying the classification and measurement of financial instruments, including the preference for income statement reporting of changes in fair value and disclosure requirements, the issue of applying fair value measurement consistently remains at the center of the difference. Both Boards are continuing their work in this area.

Conclusion

It is possible that the SEC's continued support of fair value accounting, and the FASB's recent pronouncements and IASB converging standards guiding preparers to properly value assets during the credit crisis in inactive and disorderly markets, have restored some confidence in financial reporting, if not in the economy. Some firms in the financial services sector already seem to have benefited from the new guidance. For instance, BNY Mellon, in its first quarter 10-Q for 2009, indicates that its early adoption of FSP FAS 157-4 has significantly reduced the amount of fair value losses reported. The securities losses reported on BNY Mellon's income statement for the first quarter of 2009 were $295 million, contrasted to losses of $1,241 million in the fourth quarter of 2008.

The SEC's and FASB's call for companies to use judgment in estimating fair value apparently needed to be institutionalized in the pronouncements for preparers to overcome their fear of being second-guessed.

The FASB continues to work to improve fair value accounting. In 2008, it formed a group of valuation practitioners and accountants, representing a cross section of industry representatives including financial statement preparers, auditors, and valuation experts, to provide input to the FASB staff on valuation guidance. The Valuation Resource Group (VRG) does not make any authoritative decisions; rather the VRG provides the FASB staff with information on the existing implementation issues surrounding fair value measurements used for financial statement reporting purposes and the alternative viewpoints associated with those implementation issues. Also in 2008, the IASB and FASB established a Financial Crisis Advisory Group, made up of current and former regulators and financial services executives, and co-chaired by Harvey Goldschmid, a former commissioner for the Securities and Exchange Commission, and Hans Hoogervorst, a regulator from the Netherlands.

The 18-member board has been given the mission of staving off undue interferences in accounting rulemaking. Their initial objective is to address both how financial reporting helped uncover the current problems and how it helped hide them as the crisis unfolded in the U.S. and abroad. The group will also explore the ties that mark-to-market accounting and off-balance-sheet accounting had to the collapses on Wall Street.

FASB Chairman Robert Herz has said, regarding the setting of standards, that "the emphasis should be on providing useful information to those who read financial statements, including those who use them to make investment and credit decisions" (Kranacher and Morris 2007). Hopefully, the additional implementation guidance and continued efforts of the FASB, IASB, SEC, and others, to improve the application of fair value accounting will further this end.

References

Barth, M. 2006. Including estimates of the future in today's financial statements. Accounting Horizons, 20(3), 271-286.

Casabona, P. 2007. The impact of the accounting profession's movement toward fair value reporting in financial statements: an interview with Theresa Ahlstrom, Long Island Office Managing Partner, KPMG, LLP. Review of Business, 27 (4), 6-10.

Gingrich, N. 2008. Suspend mark-to-market now! Forbes, Sept. 29, 2008. Available at: www.forbes.com/2008/09/29/mark-to-market-oped-cx_ng_0929gingrich.html

Financial Accounting Standards Board. 1991. Statement of Financial Accounting Standards No. 107, Disclosures about Fair Value of Financial Instruments. FASB, Norwalk, CT.

--. 1993. Statement of Financial Accounting Standards No. 115, Accounting for Certain Investments in Debt and Equity Securities. FASB, Norwalk, CT.

--. 1998. Statement of Financial Accounting Standards No. 133, Accounting for Derivatives Instruments and Hedging Activities. FASB, Norwalk, CT.

--. 2001. Statement of Financial Accounting Standards No. 142, Goodwill and Other Intangible Assets. FASB, Norwalk, CT.

--. 2001. Statement of Financial Accounting Standards No. 144, Accounting for the Impairment or Disposal of Long-Lived Assets. FASB, Norwalk, CT.

--. 2004. Statement of Financial Accounting Standards No. 123R, Accounting for Stock-Based Compensation. FASB, Norwalk, CT.

--. 2006. Statement of Financial Accounting Standards No. 157, Fair Value Measurements. FASB, Norwalk, CT.

--. 2008. FASB Staff Position FAS 157-3, Determining the Fair Value of a Financial Asset When the Market for that Asset is Not Active. FASB, Norwalk, CT.

--. 2009. FASB Staff Position FAS 157-4, Determining Fair Value When the Volume and Level of Activity for the Asset or Liability Have Significantly Decreased and Identifying Transactions that Are Not Orderly. FASB, Norwalk, CT.

--. 2009. FASB Staff Position FAS 107-1 and APB 28-1, Interim Disclosures about Fair Value of Financial Instruments. FASB, Norwalk, CT.

--. 2009. FASB Staff Position FAS 115-2 and FAS 124-2, Recognition and Presentation of Other-than-Temporary Impairments. FASB, Norwalk, CT.

--. 2009. Accounting Standards Update No. 2009-05. Fair Value Measurements and Disclosures (Topic 820): Measuring Liabilities at Fair Value. FASB, Norwalk, CT.

--. 2009. Accounting Standards Update No. 2009-12. Fair Value Measurements and Disclosures (Topic 820): Investments in Certain Entities that Calculate Net Asset Value per Share (or its Equivalent). FASB, Norwalk, CT.

International Accounting Standards Board. 2009. International Financial Reporting Release No. 9, Financial Instruments: Classification and Measurement. IASB, London, UK.

--. 2009. International Financial Reporting Standard 7, Financial Instruments: Disclosures. IASB, London, UK.

Kranacher, M. and T. Morris. 2007. An exclusive interview with FASB Chairman Robert H. Herz. The CPA Journal, 77 (11), 20-27.

Scannell, K. 2008. Crisis on Wall Street: regulators ease securities-valuation rules. Wall Street Journal (Eastern Edition), October 1, C.2.

Securities Exchange Commission. 2008. SEC Release 2008-234: SEC Office of the Chief Accountant and FASB Staff Clarifications on Fair Value Accounting. Available at: www.sec.gov

--. 2008. SEC Report and Recommendations Pursuant to Section 133 of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008: Study on Mark-to-Market Accounting. Available at: www.sec.gov/news/studies/2008/marktomarket123008.pdf

Zion, D., A. Varshney, and C. Cornett. 2009. Focusing on fair value. Credit Suisse Equity Research, June 4, 18.

Endnote

(1) BNY Mellon is a financial services company in the S&P 500. On October 1, 2006, The Bank of New York acquired JPMorgan Chase's Corporate Trust business in exchange for its retail and regional middle market banking businesses; on July 1, 2007, it then merged with Mellon Financial Corporation into The Bank of New York Mellon Corporation, with BNY Mellon being the surviving entity.

Patrick Casabona, The Peter J. Tobin College of Business, St. John's University

casabonp@stjohns.edu

Victoria Shoaf, The Peter J. Tobin College of Business, St. John's University

shoafv@stjohns.edu
The ongoing disruption in the fixed income securities market has
  resulted in additional impairment charges, as well as an increase in
  unrealized securities losses. In 2008, we recorded impairment charges
  on our securities portfolio of $1.6 billion, pre-tax, or $0.85 per
  common share. These losses were primarily driven by lower market
  values of Alt-A, home equity lines of credit ("HELOC") and
  asset-backed collateralized debt obligations ("CDO") securities. The
  market value of these securities was severely impacted by the
  depressed housing market and deterioration in the broader economy.
  The unrealized loss on the securities portfolio, which is recorded in
  other comprehensive income, was $4.1 billion at Dec. 31, 2008,
  compared with $342 million at Dec.31, 2007.


If there has been a significant decrease in the volume and level of
  activity for the asset or liability, a change in valuation technique
  or the use of multiple valuation techniques may be appropriate (for
  example, the use of a market approach and a present value technique).
  When weighting indications of fair value resulting from the use of
  multiple valuation techniques, the reporting entity shall consider
  the reasonableness of the range of fair value estimates. The
  objective is to determine the point within that range that is most
  representative of fair value under current market conditions. A wide
  range of fair value estimates may be an indication that further
  analysis is needed.
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