Mark-to-Market Accounting and Systemic Risk: Evidence from the Insurance Industry

59 Pages Posted: 18 May 2013 Last revised: 12 May 2014

See all articles by Andrew Ellul

Andrew Ellul

Indiana University - Kelley School of Business - Department of Finance; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI); University of Naples Federico II - CSEF - Center for Studies in Economics and Finance

Chotibhak Jotikasthira

Southern Methodist University (SMU) - Finance Department

Christian T. Lundblad

University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School

Yihui Wang

Fordham University

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: September 15, 2013

Abstract

One of the most contentious issues raised during the recent crisis has been the potentially exacerbating role played by mark-to-market accounting. Many have proposed the use of historical cost accounting, promoting its ability to avoid the amplification of systemic risk. We caution against focusing on the accounting rule in isolation, and instead emphasize the interaction between accounting and the regulatory framework. First, historical cost accounting, through incentives that arise via interactions with complex capital adequacy regulation, does generate market distortions of its own. Second, while mark-to-market accounting may indeed generate fire sales during a crisis, forward-looking institutions that rationally internalize the probability of fire sales are incentivized to adopt a more prudent investment strategy during normal times which leads to a safer portfolio entering the crisis. Using detailed, position- and transaction-level data from the U.S. insurance industry, we show that (a) market prices do serve as ‘early warning signals’, (b) insurers that employed historical cost accounting engaged in greater degrees of regulatory arbitrage before the crisis and limited loss recognition during the crisis, and (c) insurers facing mark-to-market accounting tend to be more prudent in their portfolio allocations. Our identification relies on the sharp difference in statutory accounting rules between life and P&C companies as well as the heterogeneity in implementation of these rules within each insurance type across U.S. states. Rather than promoting a shift away from market-based information, our results indicate that regulatory simplicity may be preferred to the complexity of risk-weighted capital ratios that gives rise, through interactions with accounting rules, to distorted risk-taking incentives and potential build-up of systemic risk.

Keywords: Regulation, Systemic risk, Mark to market, Historical cost accounting, Fire sales, Capital ratios, Insurance companies

JEL Classification: G11, G12, G14, G18, G22

Suggested Citation

Ellul, Andrew and Jotikasthira, Chotibhak and Lundblad, Christian T. and Wang, Yihui, Mark-to-Market Accounting and Systemic Risk: Evidence from the Insurance Industry (September 15, 2013). Fordham University Schools of Business Research Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2266247 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2266247

Andrew Ellul (Contact Author)

Indiana University - Kelley School of Business - Department of Finance ( email )

1309 E. 10th St.
Bloomington, IN 47405
United States

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) ( email )

London
United Kingdom

European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI) ( email )

c/o ECARES ULB CP 114
B-1050 Brussels
Belgium

University of Naples Federico II - CSEF - Center for Studies in Economics and Finance ( email )

Via Cintia
Complesso Monte S. Angelo
Naples, Naples 80126
Italy

Chotibhak Jotikasthira

Southern Methodist University (SMU) - Finance Department ( email )

United States

Christian T. Lundblad

University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School ( email )

Kenan-Flagler Business School
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3490
United States
919-962-8441 (Phone)

Yihui Wang

Fordham University ( email )

33 West 60th Street
New York, NY 10023
United States

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