Goldman Sachs and Citigroup reported better than expected financial results last week, but critics are complaining that the two banks bended accounting rules to boost their earnings.
Financial institutions won a major victory earlier this month when the Financial Accounting Standards Board voted to loosen the rules for fair value and mark-to-market accounting in time for them to use the revised standards in their quarterly financial statements. But Goldman and Citi also took advantage of earlier rules that allowed them to prop up the bottom line and perhaps repay their government bailout funds a little earlier.
Goldman reported a first-quarter profit of $1.81 billion last Monday, even as it announced a new $5 billion stock offering. However, the bank was able to avoid including $2.7 billion worth of fair value losses on commercial real estate loans and other illiquid assets that it wrote down in December within the first-quarter results it reported. The firm was moving from a fiscal year ending in November to a fiscal year beginning in January as part of its decision in September to become a bank-holding company instead of an investment bank.
In the case of Citigroup, which reported its results Friday, the revisions to the fair value measurement standard allowed the bank to report a $1.6 billion profit instead of a $900 million loss in its first-quarter results, as well as swing from a $6.8 billion loss to a $3.8 billion gain in trading profits. Citi was able to book just a portion of the loss on the value of some of its impaired assets, as opposed to the full loss, thanks to the new rules, giving it an extra $413 million in after-tax profits.
A credit value adjustment on its debt also enabled the bank to add $2.7 billion in unrealized gain to its net income. Although Citis debt declined in the bond market, the bank was able to book a one-time gain approximately equal to the decline, on the theory that it could buy back its own debt at a discount on the open market, even though it has not actually bought back its own debt.
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