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Did Fair-Value Accounting Contribute to the Financial Crisis?

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  • Christian Laux
  • Christian Leuz

Abstract

The recent financial crisis has led to a major debate about fair-value accounting. Many critics have argued that fair-value accounting, often also called mark-to-market accounting, has significantly contributed to the financial crisis or, at least, exacerbated its severity. In this paper, we assess these arguments and examine the role of fair-value accounting in the financial crisis using descriptive data and empirical evidence. Based on our analysis, it is unlikely that fair-value accounting added to the severity of the current financial crisis in a major way. While there may have been downward spirals or asset-fire sales in certain markets, we find little evidence that these effects are the result of fair-value accounting. We also find little support for claims that fair-value accounting leads to excessive write-downs of banks’ assets. If anything, empirical evidence to date points in the opposite direction, that is, towards overvaluation of bank assets.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 15515.

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Date of creation: Nov 2009
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Publication status: published as Christian Laux & Christian Leuz, 2010. "Did Fair-Value Accounting Contribute to the Financial Crisis?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 24(1), pages 93-118, Winter.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15515

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  1. Douglas W Diamond, 2010. "Fear of fire sales and the credit freeze," BIS Working Papers 305, Bank for International Settlements.
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