Fair Value Accounting Gathers Support

A pair of recent surveys suggests surprising support for fair value accounting standards, at least if such standards are used in addition to the current methodology that relies on amortized cost. The results of the two surveys, one conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers and one by Grant Thornton, could bolster the drive by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) to require fair value reporting for all financial instruments.

The Grant Thornton survey of CFOS and senior controllers at nearly 500 large public companies found that 63%, or almost two out of three, favor using fair value to account for assets on the balance sheet. Of that group, roughly 60% favor providing both fair value and amortized cost, while 40% say they'd go with fair value only. Just 37% of the finance executives say they favor using solely an amortized cost accounting methodology for the balance sheet.

Income statements were a different story, with only 5% of responding finance executives saying they favored the use of fair value.

PWC's survey, which was based on in-depth interviews with 62 investment professionals--both investors and industry analysts--found strong support for a mixed measurement model, with fair value reporting favored for shorter-lived instruments, and amortized cost reporting for longer-lived instruments such as bank loans and deposits.

The PWC survey respondents say they find fair value to be relevant and valuable in forming a view on a company's liquidity or capital adequacy and in determining enterprise value, but few say the information is useful as an indicator of future cash flow.

John Hepp, a partner in the professional standards practice at Grant Thornton, says the results of the two surveys suggest strong support for FASB's position on a shift to fair value reporting on financial statements, particularly with regard to the balance sheet.

Hepp says he was surprised at the number of CFOs who support such a shift. "Maybe they're just accepting the inevitable," he says. "Maybe it's just the old American notion of being accommodating--if the analysts want the information, then let's provide it to them."

Regarding the PWC results, Hepp says, "What the investors and analysts are saying is that fair value is a relevant number, but it's not the relevant number--it's a relevant number."

"I think the FASB is going to have to find a way to incorporate both methods, so the question is how do we do it," Hepp adds. "A mixed model, with fair value for some assets and amortized cost for others, is scoffed at by the academics and the standard-setters, but it seems to be what the users like."

One problem: If FASB moves ahead with its fair value proposal, Hepp warns, "It will pretty much make global convergence in accounting standards impossible."

As regulators consider the convergence of U.S. and global accounting standards, there's also discussion of whether the U.S. should adopt separate accounting standards for private companies.