Friday, February 29, 2008

FASB to Look Into Off-Balance-Sheet Vehicles - WSJ

(Reuters) - The agency that sets accounting standards will look into how U.S. banks treat off-balance-sheet vehicles that contributed to the more than $150 billion in losses that have hit financial institutions, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

Robert Herz, chairman of the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), told the Journal the agency will look into rules that allow banks to keep assets in special financing vehicles, off the books.

FASB will weigh whether problems stemmed from the accounting rules, disclosure requirements or the way banks complied with existing rules, Herz said in an interview.

The rules were crafted following the collapse of Enron Corp in an effort to limit the use of the sort of off-the-books vehicles that Enron used to hide its true financial state.

But banks found ways around some of the new rules, the report said.

FASB previously did not believe there was a problem with the accounting for these vehicles. The current financial crisis has altered that thinking, the report said.

What isn't clear, Herz told the Journal, is whether to change the rules, increase disclosure or force banks to better comply with existing rules.

"Whenever you have a stress test like this in the market and people are saying there are reporting problems, we need to understand the nature of those problems and to what extent there's something we have to change," Herz said. "But we also don't want to have blanket rules that make everyone consolidate everything."

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