U.S. Banks Would Look Scarier If They Were European Banks

This Bloomberg article about accounting differences between the US and Europe for derivative-y things comes down pretty squarely on the side of Europe, which is to be expected: European (well, IFRS) standards tend to gross up the size of bank balancesheets, compared to US GAAP standards. Grossing up bank balance sheets makes for bigger numbers and scarier banks, and “US banks are scarier than they seem” is more newsworthy than “European banks are less scary than they seem.” Also intuitively truer. As Bloomberg puts it:

U.S. accounting rules allow banks to record a smaller portion of their derivatives than European peers and keep most mortgage-linked bonds off their books. That can underestimate the risks firms face and affect how much capital they need.

Or it can overestimate the risk European firms face. Or any estimating of risks based on any measure of balance-sheet size is necessarily indeterminate. Risk happens tomorrow, not yesterday.

Anyway though some of these accounting differences are puzzling insofar as they are not accounting differences. Here is the mortgage bond one:

European banks sell covered bonds to finance mortgage originations and aren’t allowed under international accounting rules to move the home loans that back them off their balance sheets. Covered bonds package mortgages like securitizations, and the bonds are sold to investors. In case of bankruptcy, the mortgages that back the covered bonds are walled off from other assets of the bank and can be seized by bondholders.

Buyers of the bonds can demand that banks replace soured mortgages with performing ones, leaving the credit risk with the originator. That’s similar to buyback requests in the U.S. Executives at U.S. banks disagree, saying the securitizations pass mortgage-default risk to the government and investors, while covered bonds don’t.



vgl. mit accountingundcontrolling.ch – Beitrag
Bankbilanzen nach IFRS und US-GAAP – Which Size Matters?