The Lynch Mob Forms
So there's only one thing left to do: blame the accountants. There's an angry mob forming, and it looks like they brought a rope. They're converging at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC on Thursday, March 12, when Congressman Paul Kanjorski holds a hearing to "address problems facing mark-to-market accounting."
The press is having a field day with this: it's been a long time since an accounting standard was in the news so much. Ben Stein threw a tantrum in the Sunday New York Times, calling for someone, anyone, to "immediately end the near-universal applicability of the accounting rule formally known as FAS 157." Ben: get a grip. Statement 157 is universal, all right - it applies to any balance sheet account that had been given fair value treatment before the issuance of Statement 157. The most pervasive and confidence-destroying myth about Statement 157 is that it's somehow requiring fair value reporting for the first time in places where it hadn't ever been used before.
If folks like Ben would maybe just READ Statement 157, they'd understand that. If they'd really stretch and read the SEC's Congress-mandated study on fair value accounting, they'd know that at the banks where all the alleged fair value damage has been wrought, only about 31% of total assets are given the fair value treatment - hardly "near-universal." The biggest assets on banks' balance sheets are their loans - and they do not receive fair value treatment. Their greatest amount of assets were unaffected by the implementation of Statement 157. It's easier to deflect blame on an accounting rule than face culpability for bad loans made, however.
The conventional wisdom (hard to call it that) that Statement 157 is creating fair value reporting where it had not been applied before. It's simply misinformation: Statement 157 put one definition of fair value into the accounting rules and added more disclosures for users - including the widely-used Level 1, 2 and 3 fair value hierarchy disclosures.