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July 06, 2009

Behind the Mark-to-Market Change

Catherine New
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The debate over fair-value and mark-to-market accounting rules has quieted down in recent weeks but it is far from over. At the heart of the issue is this question: Are hard-to-value securities worth only what the market is willing to pay, or is the market too dysfunctional to set values in a meaningful way?

A new paper, “The Subject Matter of Financial Reporting: The Conflict between Cash Conversion Cycles and Fair Value in the Measurement of Income” published by the Center for Excellence in Accounting and Security Analysis, challenges some basic assumptions in the existing model for financial reporting. (The paper was reportedly circulated among the financial regulators responsible for the recent rule change.) Authored by Andreas Bezold, a former chief risk officer and deputy CFO/board member of a large German Bank, and reviewed by Professor Trevor Harris, the paper concluded that a clearer distinction between fair-value changes as information and fair-value changes as income is essential. The paper makes these key points:

•Business activity is the primary object of financial reporting, which is characterized as investing cash in non-cash resources to be combined according to a specific economic logic to generate future net cash flows. The production of net cash flows is the business activity in its entirety, not single non-cash resources or constructs like “net assets”.

•Different business activities have different business models based on a different economic logic and that the value of a non-cash resource to an activity depends on the way it contributes to the net cash inflows under the economic logic of the activity in progress, i.e. depending on its function and use.

•Accounting concepts and measurement attributes have to be aligned with the inherent economic logic of an activity if faithful representation is to be achieved.

Click here to download the complete paper (PDF).

Photo courtesy of CEASA