April 2 (Bloomberg) -- Remember this man’s name: Charles Bowsher. He’s one of the few people leaving the banking crisis behind with his reputation enhanced.
Bowsher, who was comptroller general of the U.S. from 1981 to 1996, had a simple reason for resigning last week as chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank System’s Office of Finance. He didn’t want to put his name on the banks’ combined financial statements, because he was uncomfortable vouching for them. Bowsher, 77, had held the post since April 2007. . .
The year-end balance sheet at the FHLBank of Seattle, for example, showed $5.6 billion of non-government mortgage-backed securities that it says it will hold until maturity. Yet the estimated value of those securities was just $3.6 billion. The bank, which reported a $199.4 million net loss for 2008, said the declines were only temporary. They’ve been anything but fleeting, though. Most of those securities have been worth less than they cost for more than a year.
The FASB’s rules on this subject, which have never been well defined, are now in flux. Today, after caving in to pressure by the banking industry and members of Congress, the Financial Accounting Standards Board is set to vote on a plan to relax its rules on mark-to-market accounting, so that companies can disregardmarket prices and ignore losses on their securities indefinitely.
Pressing for Change
While that wouldn’t make the banks any healthier, it would make their numbers look prettier. The FHLBanks have been among the most vocal lobbyists pressing for the change.
Bowsher said the process of valuing such assets was fraught with doubt already. “Now if you think about it, the FASB might be changing the whole thing, and everybody might mark their assets up,” he said. “Who wants to be part of that?
Question: I've lost a lot of money during this financial mess and I'm wondering when I should go back to putting 15% of my salary into my 401(K)? --Michelle Bonds, Rocky Mount, N.C.
Answer: Uh, how about like, right now? . .