Sarbox isn’t the only regulatory regime under threat. As Ryan Grim writes over at HuffPo, an amendment has been introduced that would put FASB under the thumb of the new systemic risk oversight council, and give the council the power to literally do away with inconvenient accounting rules that pose a problem for banks.
Astonishingly, at a time when the public is crying out for greater regulation to limit excessive risk-taking by financial institutions, the banks are trying to get Congress to agree that the next time there’s a big downturn, they should have the ability to alter their accounting standards — essentially, fudge the numbers — so that the public and investors won’t be able to tell how insolvent they really are. By ignoring their declining asset values, they can avoid the standard requirement of raising more capital.
The mechanism is contained in an amendment set to be introduced in mid-November by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) that would move final authority over the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) from the Securities and Exchange Commission to a new body, a so-called “oversight” board, that would include the officials charged with managing systemic risks to the financial markets.
Accountants are apoplectic. Even the Chamber of Commerce is fighting this, on behalf of their non-bank membership, co-signing a letter with the Center for Audit Quality and the Council of Institutional Investors:
By placing the FASB under the jurisdiction of a structure charged with managing systemic risks to the financial markets, accounting rules will be viewed though the narrow lens of a few large companies from specific industries, rather than considerate of the applicability of financial reporting policies to over 15,000 public companies. Such a narrow focus can skew standards such that it makes understanding of transactions that businesses engage in on a daily basis more difficult and undermine the confidence of investors. We believe that the SEC has been and continues to be best suited to provide the oversight of the FASB for such a broad and diverse economy.
As such, we strongly support an independent standards-setting process, subject to public scrutiny and free of undue pressures.
Another helpful bit of the article explains how it isn’t Wall Street driving this, it’s smaller community banks.
It bothers me how small banks have been able to set themselves up as David to the Wall St. Goliath. No, they don’t benefit from TBTF guarantees so, yes, they are at a disadvantage relative to Wall St.
But that’s not a reason to bend the rules in their favor. No they didn’t get involved in more exotic products that blew up Wall St., but many got caught in the CRE mania. If they are insolvent, they need to be shut down. Otherwise they’ll continue to absorb capital that should go to solvent banks and borrowers.
But congressmen tend to like little guy storis (also they like campaign contributions from community banks) so many are happy to sponsor this race to the bottom.
(By the way….it’s interesting that Kanjorski is against this. Recall that it was his subcommittee that browbeat FASB into overriding fair value rules earlier this year.)