The problem with a bank’s balance sheet is that on the left side nothing’s right and on the right side nothing’s left.
Think Lehman’s and Dexia’s balance sheets. One day AAA, six months’s later rubbish. That fast leh?
Profit and loss accounts are just as rubbishy. Recently UBS’s third quater profit fell to 1.02 billion Swiss francs (US$1.2 billion) in the three months ended Sept. 30 from 1.66 billion francs in the period a year earlier. The trading loss of 1.85bn Swiss francs (alleged caused by a rogue trader) and charges linked to a cost-cutting plan were partly offset by an accounting gain on the bank’s own credit of 1.8 billion francs and the sale of some investments.
Now this accounting treatment was not not only used by UBS. According to the FT’s Lex, four-fifths of the US$16bn net profits in the latest announced results of (BoA, Citi, JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs came from using used the same accounting treatment of the banks’ own debts.
Lex describes the accounting treament thus: ” Try this on your credit card company: your creditworthiness has weakened, so you write down the value of what you owe them to reflect the greater riskthat you will not pay it back and credit the difference to your personal account. That is what exactly accounting allows”.