Regarding “Wave of Write-Offs Rattles Market” by David Reilly (page one, March 1): Thirty years ago, no accounting principle was more accepted than that assets are worth what they cost, absent proof of a permanent impairment of value. When such impairment was understood and confirmed, the carrying value was adjusted.
Today, I see the overzealous accounting profession calling for long-term assets, those which the owners do not intend to sell, nor have need to sell, being forced to mark such assets to market on a regular basis. While this may make sense for equities, where market values tend to reflect economic reality or assets which may need to be sold in the normal course of operating the business, it makes no sense for assets intended to be held to maturity. The marking of long-term complex financial instruments where market values are temporarily depressed and meaningless for the longer term is terribly destructive. In many cases, the only market prices available are distressed sellers or some thin index which is regularly shorted by investment professionals.
These are not real values, and marking to these prices causes unnecessary volatility and contractions in capital which restrict the ability of financial institutions to operate and grow. Perhaps the accounting profession is trying to overcompensate for its failures in the Enron fiasco and other similar cases, and to prevent lawsuits. Fair-value accounting, particularly for long-term complex instruments that do not trade in liquid markets, is illogical and destructive and should be re-examined immediately.
Matt A. Greenberg
Is Fair-Value Accounting Always Fair?
The Wall Street Journal – 5/3/2008 – A15