Fair value reprieve

Just so you know, accountancy was not overhauled by Europe’s leading politicians at the weekend. The summit in Paris on Saturday hosted by French president Nicholas Sarkozy and attended by Gordon Brown was seen as the moment when the leaders got involved in setting standards setting to ditch fair value.
They didn’t. They are keen on a level playing field between the US and Europe on standards, but they held back from turning over fair value, the most controversial standard in the world at this moment.
That didn’t stop Tory leader David Cameron from writing in the FT today that something had to be done about fair value.
We’ve talked to senior professionals, regulators and investors – even analysts, and they all say a suspension of fair value at this time is not on, that it will only confuse things for investors.
But what I want to say today is that after talking to insiders there’s a sense in which this battle is not over, simply because events are so fluid anything could change in the next few days or weeks.
This means fair value supporters will not be able to abandon their efforts. They should be prepared to keep coming back to the table and dealing with each new demand as it is made.
The IASB now has an interesting task on its hands considering a ‘reclassification’ rule that will allow assets to be moved from being ‘held for sale’, and subject to fair value, to ‘held for investment’ and, as a result, not targeted by fair value.
That, as I understand it, should not be viewed as a back door way of recategorising truckloads of assets to make them look a lot more attractive than they otherwise would.
Firstly, because reclassification is considered to be ‘rare’ by the IASB and, secondly, the board will put together an anti abuse measure likely to ensure that very thing does not happen.
Reclassification does not, at this time, look like a licence to rewrite balance sheets more optimistically. This is about creating a level playing field.
So for the time being politicians have backed away from sticking their nose into standards. I can’t help feeling that’s a good thing. Standards would only be a distraction from the much more pressing task of supporting banks and improving liquidity so that business can get moving again. And liquidity is quite different from accounting.

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