FASB 157 gets a “clarification”

The much maligned accounting principle of “mark to market” accounting has received an important clarification today from regulators at the SEC.

“When an active market for a security does not exist, the use of management estimates that incorporate current market participant expectations of future cash flows, and include appropriate risk premiums, is acceptable.” source

FASB 157 came about as a result of the Enron scandal and subsequent regulations contained in the onerous Sarbanes Oxley Act.

Hopefully this is a first step toward its full repeal.

It is important to note that the SEC is NOT saying that cooking the books is now an acceptable accounting practice. That would be the last thing that corporate America needs in order to restore public confidence. Transparency is necessary, and the SEC’s clarification will help investors to see a much truer picture of the financial health of the corporate balance sheet. Perhaps, after the debacles of Bear Stearns, Lehman, Merrill, Wachovia, Wamu, and AIG, the SEC sees this as a way of acknowledging that many of the weaker players and their related toxic assets have been identified and dealt with, and it’s time to protect the healthier players that remain.

It becomes crucial as the Treasury anticipates buying some $700 billion in mortgage-backed securities, and in effect, establishing a market price for illiquid assets. A direct consequence would be that the remaining banks would have to take a write down on their assets to reflect the new market price.

This is an important clarification from the SEC. It will have an important and immediate impact.

more: At cnbc.com, Lee Brodie asks, “New rules, same game?”

WFFOT: In the news

Here are a few stories that have caught my attention today…

The Airborne Laser Cannon — Ready to Deploy

lasercannon.jpgCreating a laser that can melt a soda can in a lab is a finicky enough task. Later this year, scientists will put a 40,000-pound chemical laser in the belly of a gunship flying at 300 mph and take aim at targets as far away as five miles. And we’re not talking aluminum cans. Boeing’s new Advanced Tactical Laser will cook trucks, tanks, radio stations—the kinds of things hit with missiles and rockets today. Whereas conventional projectiles can lose sight of their target and be shot down or deflected, the ATL moves at the speed of light and can strike several targets in rapid succession.

“Lower the drawbridge” … Yuma AZ ponders digging a moat (I kid you not)

There have been virtual fences, real fences, increased patrols and night-vision cameras. Now the latest initiative by the US to seal its increasingly porous border with Mexico harks back to one of the oldest approaches: dig a moat. City officials in Yuma, in south-western Arizona, have come up with a scheme to create a “security channel” along the nearby border by reviving a derelict two-mile stretch of the Colorado river.

“The moats that I’ve seen circled the castle and allowed you to protect yourself, and that’s kind of what we’re looking at here,” Yuma county sheriff Ralph Ogden told the Associated Press. The scheme would see engineers dig out a two-mile stretch of a 180-hectare (440-acre) wetland known as Hunters Hole.

Harvard student database hacked, posted on BitTorrent

Harvard University says about 10,000 of last year’s applicants may have had their personal information compromised.

At least 6,600 Social Security numbers were exposed. Worse, a compressed 125 M-byte file containing the stolen student data is currently available via BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer network.

In a statement published Monday night Harvard officials said the database containing summaries of GSAS applicant data for entry to the Fall 2007 academic year, summaries of GSAS housing applicant data for the 2007-08 and 2006-07 academic years, and administrator information had been compromised. The server had been taken offline for several days last month to investigate the extent of the problem.

AP: This winter has been WARMER than average

Winter storms and snow notwithstanding, this winter was still warmer than average worldwide, the government reported Thursday.

The global temperature for meteorological winter — December, January and February — averaged 54.38 degrees Fahrenheit, 0.58 degrees warmer than normal for the last century, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported.

Temperatures have been rising over recent years, raising concerns about the effects of global warming, generally attributed to human-induced impacts on the atmosphere.

No, wait a minute …. NOAA: Coolest Winter Since 2001 for U.S., Globe

The average temperature across both the contiguous U.S. and the globe during climatological winter (December 2007-February 2008) was the coolest since 2001, according to scientists at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. In terms of winter precipitation, Pacific storms, bringing heavy precipitation to large parts of the West, produced high snowpack that will provide welcome runoff this spring.

A complete analysis is available online.

Financial News Roundup………………

President Bush addresses ECNY.  Calls for “Political Courage”

bush.jpgIn a speech to The Economic Club of New York, Bush said this was not the first time the economy has been rattled and that he is certain that it will ride out its troubles. “These are uncertain times,” he said.

Security Capital Assurance Halts Taking on New Business

Troubled bond insurer Security Capital Assurance Ltd. on Thursday posted a massive fourth-quarter loss and said it will stop writing new policies in an effort to preserve capital.

The Bermuda-based company reported it lost $1.2 billion, or $18.67 per share, in the last three months of the year as the value of securities backed by home loans the company insured deteriorated rapidly. During the same period in 2006, SCA posted a profit of $35.8 million, or 56 cents per share.

JPMorgan and Fed Move to Bail Out Bear Stearns

Bear Stearns, facing a grave liquidity crisis, reached out to JPMorgan on Friday for a short-term financial lifeline and now faces the prospect of the end of its 85-year run as an independent investment bank.

With the support of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, JPMorgan said in a statement that it had “agreed to provide secured funding to Bear Stearns, as necessary, for an initial period of up to 28 days.”

For the next month, JPMorgan will work with Bear Stearns to reach a solution for its financing crisis. Options could include organizing permanent financing or, according to people briefed on the discussions, buying the bank for a discounted price.

Carlyle may help CCC investors: Rubenstein

Private equity group Carlyle (CYL.UL) will look at ways to help investors who have lost money in Dutch-listed Carlyle Capital Corporation (CCC) (Amsterdam:CARC.AS – News), Carlyle co-founder David Rubenstein told media in statements confirmed to Reuters by a spokeswoman.

In an interview with France’s Les Echos newspaper, Rubenstein said Carlyle had done all it could to help CCC, citing a $150 million credit line provided by its partners “no doubt at a loss” but wanted to try and make amends.

Congress Examines Municipal Bond Ratings, Bond Insurance Industry

The fast-spreading U.S. mortgage crisis prompted lawmakers Wednesday to explore problems with municipal bonds, painting a bleak outlook for bond insurers that one official said imposes a “secret Wall Street tax” on state and local taxpayers.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is investigating how credit rating agencies grade the risk of municipal bonds and said the existing system is “quite possibly illegal.” He joined other state officials in calling for changes at a House committee hearing.

Carlyle Capital Corporation: commentary

No one can complain that they weren’t warned. The implosion of Carlyle Capital Corporation is a spectacular failure, probably the most damaging to sentiment in credit markets since Northern Rock. But this time all those closely involved were consenting adults.

Those who read the prospectus for the company had no doubt about its potentially precarious nature. You lose count of the number of references to “leverage without limit”. Never mind the eye-popping 32 times gearing CCC opted for. There was nothing in the company rules to prevent it leveraging up 320 times.

Read the Prospectus? What a novel idea!
+++++

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