Agency problems, accounting slack, and banks’ response to proposed reporting of loan fair values

Publication date: February 2014 Source:Accounting, Organizations and Society, Volume 39, Issue 2

Author(s): Leslie D. Hodder , Patrick E. Hopkins

We investigate the determinants of bank representatives’ responses to the United States Financial Accounting Standard Board’s 2010 Exposure Draft that proposes fair value measurement for most financial instruments. Over 85% of the 2971 comment letters were received from bank representatives, with most bank-affiliated letters addressing—and opposing—one issue: fair value measurement of loans. The Exposure Draft proposes that companies report both fair value and amortized cost measures for loans; thus, the proposal should result in increased levels of loan-related information and improved financial reporting transparency. We investigate three reasons for bank representatives’ resistance. First, fair value measurement should result in less accounting slack than the current incurred-loss model for loan impairments; therefore, we propose that representatives from banks that historically utilized that slack will resist fair value measurement for loans. Second, we propose that agency problems are an important motivating factor because bank representatives reaping more private benefits from their franchises have less incentive to support increases in financial reporting transparency. Third, we test whether the most common reasons for opposition included in the comment letters are associated with negative letter writing. Our analyses support the first two determinants of bank representatives’ resistance to the Exposure Draft. Specifically, accounting slack and lower demand for accounting transparency are strongly associated with resistance to the standard. However, we find that stated reasons for resistance are not associated with letter writing. Specifically, representatives at firms with difficult to value loans and firms that mostly hold loans to maturity are no more likely to resist the standard than others. The narrow scope of bank representatives’ comments and our empirical findings suggest that bankers’ responses to the Exposure Draft may be more driven by concerns over reduced availability of accounting slack and accompanying de facto regulatory forbearance than by the conceptual arguments they offer. Our results have implications for standard setters, who must navigate special interests as they attempt to promulgate high quality accounting standards, and for users of financial statements who must consider how political forces shape generally accepted accounting principles.

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