The banking industry, who helped create the environment that allowed the subprime crisis, US housing slump and credit crunch to flourish, now want the accounting rules changed to help them survive.

The latest edition of The Financial Times reveals attempts by the world’s banks to have accounting laws fiddled to prevent the full impact hitting them:

The proposals on “fair value” accounting by the Institute of International Finance, an alliance of 300-plus companies chaired by Josef Ackermann, Deutsche Bank’s chairman, would enable financial companies to cushion the blow of financial crises by valuing illiquid assets using historical, rather than market, prices.

Under the plan, which has been obtained by the Financial Times, banks that decided to keep assets on their balance sheet would also be freed from the requirement to hold them to maturity and would be able to sell them after two years.

Senior bankers have long sought a change to the accounting rules, arguing that the requirement to mark the value of assets to the market price even when markets are illiquid or frozen creates a vicious circle of excessive losses, capital depletion and forced asset sales.

But the biggest argument against this rather plaintive and self interested call is that when the prices of these financial products were rising before the credit crunch hit midway through last year, the same banks used “fair value” accounting to book profits and pay themselves large bonuses and pay.

The rising “profits” generated from the rising “fair value” of these securities enabled the banks to borrow more, increase debt, leverage and make more money for their banks and themselves. Now that “fair value” is working in the opposite way, they want the rules of the game changed to once again favour them.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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