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How should banks account for loan losses


  • Benston, George J.
  • Wall, Larry D.


The agencies that regulate banks are involved in an ongoing debate about the appropriate way for banks and other lenders to account for default risk on loans. Accounting authorities are concerned with whether the accounting method meets the needs of general-purpose users of financial statements, particularly investors. In contrast, bank supervisors are concerned about banks being inadequately capitalized and possibly failing. ; To shed light on this debate, this article reviews the generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) currently used, which are based on historic-cost values for assets and liabilities. It then analyzes economic-value, or fair-value, accounting, which is being discussed as a substitute. ; The analysis suggests that the reported GAAP value is likely to understate the economic value of most banks’ portfolios most of the time. The economic values of loans would be more valuable if they were reliable. However, the authors argue, the fair value of credit losses must be estimated by management and hence may be biased by managerial attempts to attain earnings and capital targets. ; The authors conclude that using the lower of historic cost or economic value for valuing the credit risk of loans would provide the most relevant adequately reliable measure of loan value and would thus be the most appropriate procedure.
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Suggested Citation

  • Benston, George J. & Wall, Larry D., 2005. "How should banks account for loan losses," Journal of Accounting and Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 24(2), pages 81-100.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jappol:v:24:y:2005:i:2:p:81-100

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Fama, Eugene F, 1980. "Agency Problems and the Theory of the Firm," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 88(2), pages 288-307, April.
    2. Battalio, Raymond C & Kagel, John H & Jiranyakul, Komain, 1990. "Testing between Alternative Models of Choice under Uncertainty: Some Initial Results," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 3(1), pages 25-50, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Daniel Pérez & Vicente Salas-Fumás & Jesús Saurina, 2011. "Do dynamic provisions reduce income smoothing using loan Loss provisions?," Working Papers 1118, Banco de España;Working Papers Homepage.
    2. Lepetit, Laetitia & Strobel, Frank & Dickinson, David G., 2012. "Does uncertainty matter for loan charge-offs?," Journal of International Financial Markets, Institutions and Money, Elsevier, vol. 22(2), pages 264-277.
    3. Stefan Hlawatsch & Sebastian Ostrowski, 2009. "Economic Loan Loss Provision and Expected Loss," FEMM Working Papers 09013, Otto-von-Guericke University Magdeburg, Faculty of Economics and Management.
    4. Eliana Balla & Morgan J. Rose, 2011. "Loan loss reserves, accounting constraints, and bank ownership structure," Working Paper 11-09, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.
    5. Daniel Perez & Vicente Salas-Fumas & Jesus Saurina, 2008. "Earnings and Capital Management in Alternative Loan Loss Provision Regulatory Regimes," European Accounting Review, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 17(3), pages 423-445.
    6. Adela Socol, 2011. "Loan Losses Provisioning Processes In Romanian Banks During January 2007 €“ February 2011," Annales Universitatis Apulensis Series Oeconomica, Faculty of Sciences, "1 Decembrie 1918" University, Alba Iulia, vol. 1(13), pages 1-11.
    7. Eliana Balla & Andrew McKenna, 2009. "Dynamic provisioning: a countercyclical tool for loan loss reserves," Economic Quarterly, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, issue Fall, pages 383-418.
    8. Ronald Zhao & Yihong He, 2014. "The accounting implication of banking deregulation: an event study of Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (1999)," Review of Quantitative Finance and Accounting, Springer, vol. 42(3), pages 449-468, April.
    9. repec:ibn:ijefaa:v:9:y:2017:i:11:p:48-63 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Hopp, Janina & Nippel, Peter, 2015. "Periodenerfolgsmessung und Risikovorsorge im Kreditgeschäft: Ein grundlegender Überblick und Vergleich alternativer Ansätze der Bewertung von Kreditforderungen," Manuskripte aus den Instituten für Betriebswirtschaftslehre der Universität Kiel 662, Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel, Institut für Betriebswirtschaftslehre.
    11. repec:kap:jfsres:v:52:y:2017:i:3:d:10.1007_s10693-016-0255-0 is not listed on IDEAS
    12. Loveland, Robert, 2016. "How prompt was regulatory corrective action during the financial crisis?," Journal of Financial Stability, Elsevier, vol. 25(C), pages 16-36.

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