Not So Dismal

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Wesbury on Mark-to-Market

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Brian Wesbury, chief economist for FTPortfolios, has a tendency to be about twenty miles ahead of the curve and has an enviable gift when it comes to explaining complex issues in a relatively easy to understand fashion.  When you’ve seen me refer to relaxing mark to market requirements for some of the housing securities out there, this is what I mean:

Here’s something you won’t believe: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have not drawn a dime from the Treasury’s $200 billion facility that was created to bail them out. It was the use of mark-to-market accounting that allowed Treasury to declare them bankrupt. On a cash flow basis, they were solvent.

Mark-to-market accounting causes so much mayhem because it forces financial firms to treat all potential losses as if they were cash losses. Even if the firm does not sell at the excessively low price, and even if the net present value of current cash flows of these assets is above the market price, the firm must run the loss through its capital account. If the loss is large enough, then the firm can find itself in violation of capital requirements. This, in turn, makes it vulnerable to closure, nationalization or forced sale.

Wesbury’s suggestion could be implemented by the Securities and Exchange Commission very quickly and would do a lot more to settle the markets than writing a check with its basis in freshly-minted debt.  Full article can be found here.

Written by caseyayers

1 October, 2008 at 1:43 pm