Fair Value é confuso?

O Iasb está estudando o termo “fair value” (valor justo). É o que informa o Financial Times. A seguir, o texto completo:

Concept of ‘fair value’ ignores stench of the real world.
Financial Times – 14/2/2008 – Asia Ed1 – Page 16

What’s in a name? Quite a lot when it comes to fair value accounting, it seems.

The International Accounting Standards Board has this week launched a confidential consultation on whether the rulemaker should drop the words “fair value” and instead use something more specific.

In a nutshell, fair value seeks to value assets and liabilities at their current value, rather than using the more traditional historic cost. Critics warn that the term implies there are willing buyers and sellers and can confuse investors when there is no trading and value is instead calculated using subjective “black box” models.

To many in the accounting world, fair value represents an attempt by ivory tower academics to shoehorn everything into a single neat methodology without regard for the messiness of the real world.

Anyone following the credit crunch will have heard about the struggles to accurately value illiquid instruments. This week AIG, the US insurance giant, announced almost Dollars 5bn of writedowns after it adjusted some of the assumptions it used to value certain securities linked to subprime loans.

Critics take the AIG example and ask just how reliable fair value is when simply changing the assumptions in a model can lead to such swings in value. Advocates claim that the current market value is more relevant to investors when making investment decisions. Leaving aside the trickiness of using historic cost on complex derivatives that have no initial cost, they say the question boils down to whether you’d rather trust management’s potentially subjective view of the value, or an independent market price.

It is worth noting, too, that historic cost still allows for writedowns on impaired assets, so it is not unreasonable to assume at least a chunk of the current writedown woes would still be happening under the old basis of “lower of cost or market price”.

Back to the IASB. The consultation is a quiet “field test” exercise among a select group of auditors, analysts and companies around the world about their interpretation of “fair value measurement”. It is avoiding at all cost the wider debate on whether fair value should be applied in the first place.

Even with this limited scope, could the project defuse some of the current furore?

Part of the problem is that as fair value gets extended beyond assets with clear and liquid markets, what exactly constitutes market price is less clear. The US recently delayed plans to extend FAS 157, its fair value standard, beyond the realm of financial instruments after being warned that many had no idea how it would work in practice.

FAS 157 is based on a single definition – exit price, or the price at which you could sell the asset or liability. There is of course a buyers’ view, or entry price, and in some cases the two can produce very different numbers. IFRS has elements of both.

When the IASB consulted on switching to a single US-style exit price interpretation back in 2006, the mere suggestion provoked an uproar. Which in turn suggests that responses to the current consultation will lean towards dropping the single term in favour of defining exactly what is meant.

Would a name change alter this debate?

On one level, it would remove critics’ heartfelt complaints that it is implicitly hard to argue against something called “fair”. It might also help investors and those outside the profession understand the concept.

But for the critics, I fear that which we call fair value by any other name will still stink as badly. There is a lot of mileage in this debate yet.


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