As many companies file their financial results this year, they will face the challenge of implementing FASB’s new 800-pound gorilla: recording assets and liabilities at fair value. It’s a mammoth task they’ll continue to grapple with over the next few months.
This new standard formalizes the accounting industry’s age-old concept of fair value. It redefines fair value as the present-day cost to sell an asset or transfer a liability in an orderly transaction.
Previously this definition was used only to define investments in debt and equity securities, but now it has been expanded to include most assets and liabilities that take up space on corporate balance sheets. And it requires both public and private companies to adopt it.
As a result, companies — particularly those that invest in the alternative investment space — will find it increasingly challenging to mark many of their complex investments according to the new fair value definition. In addition, accountants will be required to dust off older contracts and agreements previously held at historical cost in order to comply with new requirements. (Valuation of publicly quoted investments, however, remains straightforward).
Although market volatility and subjectivity will riddle this process with uncertainty, one thing is for certain: this new fair value landscape will stimulate growth in several related career paths in 2008. Companies will need to employ more quantitative gurus in order to price these securities. In addition, regulators and auditors are likely to place a higher level of reliance on third-party valuation estimates, thereby creating a larger demand for independent valuation experts.
More good news is that this will enhance the tradability of assets and liabilities among firms by making the values of such investments more transparent to both buyers and sellers.
This new pronouncement presents fresh challenges for public and private organizations, many of which have long struggled with placing a value on complex financial instruments. Now that companies are filing quarterly financial information, we’re likely to see the effects of improved measurements and a clearer concept of what an asset or a liability is really worth.