Accounting for Equity Transactions - Marking Equity to Market: 400 Years Overdue? Or, GAAP's Gap: Pacioli After the Dutch East India Company
29 Pages Posted: 9 Dec 2007 Last revised: 23 Dec 2014
Date Written: December 5, 2007
It is time for accounting to recognize the existence of stock exchanges and stop treating the equity accounts of public corporations as if they belonged to 15th century private partnerships. When Pacioli's codification of the principles of accounting was published in 1494, stock exchanges did not exist. After the founding of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in 1602, that changed. It is time for accounting to change, too.
The VOC's growth to become the 17th century's largest commercial enterprise was advanced by financial innovations that fostered liquid trading in its shares, a development credited as the progenitor of today's public stock exchanges. In 1609, VOC shares became non-redeemable and lost directorship rights, so that, besides the possibility of future dividends (none had yet been paid), investors' sole focus became the ease of transferability and the possibility of capital gain. Though the VOC's charter limited its issuance of equity capital, the well recognized value of its stock served the VOC and its shareholders as collateral to secure loans on advantageous terms. The access to capital afforded by publicly traded, readily transferable, non redeemable shares confirmed the value of equity distinct from historical book value, and the British emulated and improved upon the invention later that century.
Today, the equity market value of corporations routinely exceeds accounting book value by several fold. Some might postulate the spread is largely theoretically justified and partly market error. An alternative explanation is just the reverse: The market is mainly right but accounting wrong, and the spread, GAAP's gap, readily measured and monetized, reflects accounting's failure to adapt to the reality of public stock exchanges.
Accounting should capitulate and treat equity like other assets and liabilities by marking it to market and recognizing profit and loss on equity transactions. Mark to market equity accounting eliminates GAAP's gap, loses nothing and gains much: Adjusted financial statements match today's but add lines that render a more complete picture of a firm's transactions and current standing.
Keywords: accounting, equity, mark to market, FASB, SFAS 123r, SIV, Pacioli, Dutch East India, VOC, liability and equity project, hidden asset, 10b5-1, 10b5 1, 10b-18, 10b 18, double entry, equity value added
JEL Classification: G12, G24, G30, G32, G34, G35, G38, M41, M44, K22
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation