August 02, 2018

Auditing is important, but what causes a disaster, is more important than how it is being accounted.

Sir, “FT Big Read. Auditing in crisis: Setting flawed standards” of August 2, discusses, among other, the huge divergence of figures in the auditing of the value of derivative exposures of AIG and of Goldman Sachs, even though their auditor was the same, in this case PricewaterhouseCoopers. 

That it was “striking how little was verifiable, that there were few credible market prices, let alone transactions, to support the key valuations”, explains much of the divergence.

Sharon Bowles, former chair of the European Parliament’s economic and monetary affairs committee explains it with: “Accounts have always contained estimates; think of the provisions companies make against foreseeable future losses, but the un-anchoring of auditing from verifiable fact has become endemic.”

That “un-anchoring from verifiable facts” is not limited to auditing. 

Sir, for the umpteenth time, without absolutely no verifiable facts, regulators concocted their risk weighted capital requirements for banks, based on the quite infantile feeling that what was perceived risky must be more risky to the bank system than what was perceived safe. In fact what could have been verified, if only they had looked for it, was the opposite, namely that what’s perceived safe is more dangerous to our bank systems than what’s perceived risky.

With that the regulators assigned to AAA rated AIG, by only attaching its name to guarantee an asset, the power to reduce the capital requirements for investment banks in the US, and for all banks in Europe, to a meager 1.6%. That translated into an allowed 62.5 times leverage. Let me assure you Sir that without this the whole AIG and Goldman Sachs incident described would never have happened. 

As always, what causes the problems is much more important than how the problems are accounted for. Though of course I agree, sometimes bad-accounting could in itself be the direct cause of the problems. 

The article also refers to “the so-called efficient markets hypothesis… that now somewhat discredited theory”. Sir, no markets have any chance to be credited with performing efficiently with such kind of distortions. For instance how verifiable is it now that sovereign debt is as risk-free as markets would currently indicate, when statist regulators have assigned it a 0% risk free weight, and are thereby subsidizing it?