Accounting & Auditing | Corporate Finance & Governance | Financial Planning | Legislative / Regulatory

Are we selling our souls on the way to recovery?

Dollar Something just doesn't smell right.

Congress all but demands changes in mark-to-market accounting from the Financial Accounting Standards Board, and in a matter of days, the FASB rushes through new guidance (with a 15-day comment period, no less) on how companies should value assets that are caught in an "inactive market."

It's not the fact that the FASB took action that stinks. After last week's hearings, that was all but given. It's not even the speed at which the changes are taking place that bothers me. Badly constructed regulation has been rushed onto the books before in the name of Something Has To Be Done. Anyone remember the Sarbanes-Oxley Act?

No, what really bothers me is this quote from FASB member Thomas Linsmeier:

"What we are voting on will hopefully elevate fair values to a more reasonable price so investors are more comfortable investing in the banking system."

In other words: To hell with what the market says. Let's value these assets at a price -- any price -- that will encourage people to invest money in them.

In my mind, accounting is all about transparency and accuracy, and those things are not subject to speculation. We don't just change the numbers because we don't like them.

But what lawmakers and regulators seem to be saying is this: We're willing to do anything to get people investing again.

Anything? Are you willing to cook the books? Sell your souls? Tell people that something is worth more than its market value? Because by insisting on these changes, that's what it sounds like you're doing.

Yes, I want the economy to recover quickly. Yes, I want investors to feel confident again. But I don't want those things at the expense of accounting principles. "Value" shouldn't be a subjective quality.


Bill Sheridan