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European banks look to US accounting
January, 11th 2008
European banks are considering adopting detailed US-style disclosures of how they value financial instruments, going above and beyond the actual accounting requirements in a bid to help calm jittery investors.
 
Bank shares have tumbled in recent months as investors shied away from the sector because of uncertainties about the exact level of losses they faced.
 
Most leading institutions are preparing their year-end results, the most detailed communication they have with shareholders, and are under pressure to provide as much disclosure as possible. A new international accounting standard will mean banks have to provide more information than before.
 
But some financial teams are understood to be considering following new US requirements, which are more elaborate and require financial instruments to be split between three buckets depending on how liquid the market for trading them is.
 
The systems the banks have are producing this information anyway, so it is not a stretch for them to present it in that way, said Mark Rhys, a banking audit partner at Deloitte. John Hitchins, banking leader at PwC, said: A number of banks are considering this. Theyre getting questions about this from investors familiar with the US form, so it makes sense to consider it if it helps investors understand the situation.
 
But the auditors cautioned against expecting too much comparability between disclosures in the annual reports in spite of efforts to standardise them. The danger is [that] people take a particular footnote [in a set of accounts] out of all proportion. Someone could go around and look at, say, line five of note 27 and try and compare each of the banks when it is not that straightforward because they are all different businesses, said Rhys.
 
This is the first year that US investment banks have been using these particular detailed disclosures, which have yet to go through the rigour of a year-end audit. This means that although the basic information provided in US quarterly filings is the same, the presentation and detail of the disclosures vary widely.
 
Level One assets are very liquid, while Level Two involves less traded securities and accepts prices for instruments similar to those being valued.
 
Interest has focused on Level Three, where a model developed by the bank is used to calculate value. Most collateralised debt obligations and other complex securities are in this category.
 
With many corners of the markets still frozen, some investors fear that more assets will fall into the Level Three category.
 
 
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