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Fair Value Accounting and the Financial Crisis: Messenger or Contributor? / Comptabilisation à la juste valeur et crise financière : rôle indicatif ou contributif?

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  • Michel Magnan

Abstract

Did fair value accounting play a role in the current financial crisis? This appendix explores the issue. Fair value accounting implies that assets and liabilities get measured and reflected on a firm`s financial statements at their market value, or close substitutes. Extensive academic research done over the past 20 years shows that financial statements that reflect the market values of assets or liabilities provide information that is relevant to investors. In other context, fair value accounting is just a messenger carrying bad news. In contrast, there is also another research stream which is quite critical of the perceived merits of fair value accounting, and which worries about how it undermines what constitutes the core of financial reporting. More specifically, it is argued that fair value accounting is difficult to verify, may be based on unreliable assumptions or hypotheses and provides management with too much discretion into the preparation of financial statements. Hence, according to this view, fair value accounting is not necessarily a neutral or unbiased messenger. Moreover, fair value accounting creates a circular dynamic in financial reporting, with markets providing the input for the measurement of many assets, thus affecting reported earnings which are then used by analysts and investors to assess a firm's market value. If markets become volatile, as has been the case in recent months, reported earnings also become more volatile, thus feeding investors apprehensions. Therefore, since fair value accounting is associated with more volatile and less conservative financial statements and, it may have allowed managers to delay the day of recognition as well as distorted investors and regulators' perceptions of financial performance and stability at the end of the financial bubble. However, once the economic pendulum swung back, fair value accounting may have magnified their views as to the severity of the current financial crisis, hence accelerating some negative trends. La comptabilisation à la juste valeur a-t-elle joué un rôle dans la crise financière actuelle ? Cette question fait l'objet de la présente annexe. La comptabilisation à la juste valeur implique que les actifs et les passifs sont mesurés et constatés aux états financiers d'une firme selon leur valeur marchande ou selon de proches substituts. Les recherches universitaires exhaustives qui ont été effectuées au cours des 20 dernières années démontrent que les états financiers reflétant la valeur marchande des actifs ou des passifs fournissent une information pertinente pour les investisseurs. Dans ce contexte, la comptabilisation à la juste valeur n'est que l'indication de mauvaises nouvelles. À l'opposé, il existe un autre axe de recherche qui est très critique à l'égard des avantages attribués à la comptabilisation à la juste valeur et qui s'inquiète du fait que ce modèle fragilise l'essence même de l'établissement des états financiers. Plus particulièrement, certaines études font valoir que la comptabilisation à la juste valeur est difficile à vérifier, qu'elle peut être fondée sur des postulats ou des hypothèses peu fiables et qu'elle accorde trop de pouvoirs discrétionnaires aux gestionnaires en ce qui a trait à l'établissement des états financiers. Ce point de vue laisse donc à penser que la comptabilisation à la juste valeur ne transmet pas nécessairement un message neutre et objectif. Qui plus est, la comptabilisation à la juste valeur crée une dynamique circulaire sur le plan de la présentation de la situation financière puisque les marchés fournissent les données utilisées pour mesurer de nombreux actifs, influençant ainsi les bénéfices constatés qui sont ensuite consultés par les analystes et les investisseurs en vue d'établir la valeur marchande d'une firme. Si les marchés deviennent volatils, comme ce fut le cas au cours des derniers mois, les bénéfices constatés deviennent aussi plus volatils, alimentant ainsi l'appréhension des investisseurs. Par conséquent, la comptabilisation à la juste valeur étant associée à des états financiers plus volatils et moins conservateurs, cela peut avoir permis aux gestionnaires de retarder la constatation et de fausser les perceptions des investisseurs et des organismes de réglementation concernant le rendement et la stabilité financière à la fin de la bulle financière. Toutefois, au retour du balancier, la comptabilisation à la juste valeur peut avoir amplifié leur interprétation de la gravité de la crise financière actuelle, augmentant ainsi certaines tendances négatives.

Suggested Citation

  • Michel Magnan, 2009. "Fair Value Accounting and the Financial Crisis: Messenger or Contributor? / Comptabilisation à la juste valeur et crise financière : rôle indicatif ou contributif?," CIRANO Working Papers 2009s-25, CIRANO.
  • Handle: RePEc:cir:cirwor:2009s-25
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