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Is Historical Cost Accounting a Panacea? Market Stress, Incentive Distortions, and Gains Trading

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  • Ellul, Andrew
  • Jotikasthira, Chotibhak
  • Lundblad, Christian T
  • Wang, Yihui

Abstract

We provide new empirical evidence concerning the contentious debate over the use of historical cost (HCA) versus mark-to-market (MTM) accounting in regulating financial institutions. These accounting rules, through their interactions with capital regulations, alter financial institutions’ trading behavior. The insurance industry provides a natural laboratory to explore these interactions since significant differences exist in regulatory accounting rules: (1) life insurers have greater flexibility to hold speculative-grade assets under HCA than property and casualty insurers, which are required to use MTM, and (2) the degree to which life insurers have to recognize market value through impairment differs across U.S. states. In the context of the sizeable downgrades of asset-backed securities (ABS) during the 2007-2009 financial crisis, we show that insurers facing MTM are more likely to sell the downgraded ABS than insurers holding these assets under HCA. To improve their capital positions, insurers facing HCA disproportionately resort to gains trading, selectively selling their corporate and government bond holdings with the highest unrealized gains. This trading behavior transmits shocks across otherwise unrelated markets.

Suggested Citation

  • Ellul, Andrew & Jotikasthira, Chotibhak & Lundblad, Christian T & Wang, Yihui, 2015. "Is Historical Cost Accounting a Panacea? Market Stress, Incentive Distortions, and Gains Trading," CEPR Discussion Papers 10450, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  • Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:10450
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Foley-Fisher, Nathan & Ramcharan, Rodney & Yu, Edison, 2016. "The impact of unconventional monetary policy on firm financing constraints: Evidence from the maturity extension program," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 122(2), pages 409-429.
    2. Ralph S.J. Koijen & Motohiro Yogo, 2017. "Risk of Life Insurers: Recent Trends and Transmission Mechanisms," NBER Working Papers 23365, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Anna Paulson & Richard Rosen, 2016. "The Life Insurance Industry and Systemic Risk: A Bond Market Perspective," Annual Review of Financial Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 8(1), pages 155-174, October.
    4. Kirti, Divya, 2018. "When gambling for resurrection is too risky," ESRB Working Paper Series 69, European Systemic Risk Board.
    5. Efing, Matthias, 2015. "Arbitraging the Basel securitization framework: Evidence from German ABS investment," Discussion Papers 40/2015, Deutsche Bundesbank.
    6. Lu, Erin P. & Lai, Gene C. & Ma, Qingzhong, 2017. "Organizational structure, risk-based capital requirements, and the sales of downgraded bonds," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 74(C), pages 51-68.
    7. Bijlsma, Melle & Vermeulen, Robert, 2016. "Insurance companies’ trading behaviour during the European sovereign debt crisis: Flight home or flight to quality?," Journal of Financial Stability, Elsevier, vol. 27(C), pages 137-154.
    8. Laux, Christian, 2016. "The economic consequences of extending the use of fair value accounting in regulatory capital calculations: A discussion," Journal of Accounting and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 62(2), pages 204-208.
    9. Li, Jing, 2017. "Accounting for banks, capital regulation and risk-taking," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 74(C), pages 102-121.
    10. Möhlmann, Axel, 2017. "Interest rate risk of life insurers: Evidence from accounting data," Discussion Papers 10/2017, Deutsche Bundesbank.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    asset-backed securities (ABS); corporate bonds; fire sales; gains trading; historical cost accounting; insurance companies; mark to market; regulation;

    JEL classification:

    • G11 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets - - - Portfolio Choice; Investment Decisions
    • G12 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets - - - Asset Pricing; Trading Volume; Bond Interest Rates
    • G14 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets - - - Information and Market Efficiency; Event Studies; Insider Trading
    • G18 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets - - - Government Policy and Regulation
    • G22 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - Insurance; Insurance Companies; Actuarial Studies

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