On the money with Gavin Hinks

Gavin Hinks, AccountancyAge

But if you thought chairman Sir David Tweedie had escaped pressure to soothe
those suffering from the credit crunch, think again.

Here’s a choice quote from Paul De Grauwe, professor of economics at the
University of Leuven. ‘Today the accounting rule of marking to market is driving
us at high speed into the abyss,’ he wrote in the Financial Times last week.

The abyss? That’s some language. And the reference to doom and destruction is
calculated to support his demand that we temporarily suspend marking to market.

He’s not alone. James Dancy of AIC Investment Services, has insisted that
fair value accounting can provide neither transparent or complete information.
In the FT, he asks for standard setters to ‘poke their heads out of the library
and walk down Main Street from time to time’.

And Martin Sullivan, CEO of insurer American International Group, called for
a short-term fix while the credit crunch is dealt with following the company’s
own $11bn writedown.

Banking analysts, including US ‘firebrand’ Christopher Whalen, have also
argued that the massive writedowns would have been much less in the absence of
fair value.

And, well, yes it would. But that’s the point ­ transparency. There was a
time when fair value worked reasonably well ­ when things were on the up. It’s
when business goes bad that users start to complain.

Pressure is on to soften the blows through the accounting and both the IASB
and the US Financial Accounting Standards Board face the weight of City and Wall
Street on that one.

As for me, I can’t help feeling the mistakes were made at a stage well before
the accounting became an issue.

Gavin Hinks is editor of Accountancy Age

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Fiona Westwood of Smith and Williamson.