Capital Markets

Bailout Bill Gives SEC Sweeping Power to Halt Fair Value

Under the plan, the SEC would also probe whether new mark-to-market rules helped spawn the financial crisis.
David KatzSeptember 29, 2008

The critics of fair-value accounting have apparently gotten a hearing on Capitol Hill: The current bailout bill being debated today in Congress includes sections giving the Securities and Exchange Commission power to suspend mark-to-market accounting “for any issuer” and to launch a probe into the question of whether it contributed to the crisis.

Under the securities laws, the SEC would have the authority to “suspend, by rule, regulation, or order, the application of Statement Number 157 of the Financial Accounting Standards Board for any issuer…if the Commission determines that is necessary or appropriate in the public interest and is consistent with the protection of investors,” according to Section 132 of the bill.

Issued in September 2006, FAS 157, Fair Value Measurements, tells public issuers how to apply mark-to-market accounting, rather than telling them when to use it. Bankers have argued strenuously against the standard, contending that it has intensified the current credit crunch.

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Further, Section 133 of the legislation would empower the SEC to launch a study of the effects of 157 on financial institutions, including depository institutions. The study would mull the effects of the standard on bank balance sheets; the impact of fair-value accounting on this year’s bank failures; and how mark-to-market affects the quality of financial information provided to investors.

In the study, the SEC would also be obliged to probe how FASB develops accounting standards; whether it’s advisable and possible to change the standards; and “alternative accounting standards to those provided in such Statement Number 157.”

The SEC’s deadline for submitting a report to Congress on the study would be the end of the 90-day period beginning on the date the bill’s enactment .