Accounting Discretion of Banks During a Financial Crisis

60 Pages Posted: 26 Aug 2009

See all articles by Harry Huizinga

Harry Huizinga

Tilburg University - Center for Economic Research (CentER); Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Luc Laeven

European Central Bank (ECB); Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Multiple version iconThere are 3 versions of this paper

Date Written: July 2009

Abstract

This paper presents evidence of banks using accounting discretion to overstate the value of distressed assets. In particular, we show that the stock market applies far greater discounts to a bank's real estate loans and mortgage-backed securities than are implicit in the book values of these assets, especially following the onset of the U.S. mortgage crisis. This suggests that bank balance sheets overvalue real estate related assets during economic slowdowns. Estimated discounts are smaller for distressed banks, as these banks derive relatively large benefits from the financial safety net to offset asset impairment. We also find that bank share prices, especially for banks with large exposures to mortgage-backed securities, react favorably to recent changes in accounting rules that relax fair value accounting. Banks with large exposures to mortgage-backed securities are also found to provision less for bad loans. Finally, we find that banks, and especially distressed banks, use discretion in the classification of mortgage-backed securities so as to inflate the book value of these securities. Our results provide several pieces of compelling evidence that banks' balance sheets offer a distorted view of the financial health of the banks, especially for banks with large exposures to real estate loans and mortgage-backed securities, and suggest that recent changes that relax fair value accounting may further distort this picture.

Keywords: accounting standards, bank regulation, fair value accounting, financial crisis, mortgage-backed securities, real estate loans

JEL Classification: G14, G21

Suggested Citation

Huizinga, Harry and Laeven, Luc A., Accounting Discretion of Banks During a Financial Crisis (July 2009). CEPR Discussion Paper No. DP7381, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1462010

Harry Huizinga (Contact Author)

Tilburg University - Center for Economic Research (CentER) ( email )

P.O. Box 90153
Tilburg, 5000 LE
Netherlands
+31 13 466 2623 (Phone)
+31 13 466 3042 (Fax)

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

London
United Kingdom

Luc A. Laeven

European Central Bank (ECB) ( email )

Sonnemannstrasse 22
Frankfurt am Main, 60314
Germany

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

London
United Kingdom

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