Counting on Trouble (Part 2)

So what is wrong with accounting?

I know. As soon as I mention accounting, most people’s eyes glaze over. It’s like those dreadful, interminable Algebra 2 classes: the teacher talked to the board and went on and on and on while everyone else got to go outside and you were stuck with this boring class forever! Or that’s what it seemed like. And accounting seems like that.

The problem is there are these really strange rules in Accounting-land. It’s like Math-world, only it pretends to be part of our everyday life. For example, people in business are always trying to control risk. One of the big risks in international commerce is currency fluctuation. So companies purchase or sell foreign currencies on a forward basis, or even enter into long-term swap agreements.

But some firms have used these contracts to speculate. (I know: you’re shocked, shocked.) When things went wrong, they hid their losses temporarily in some hedging reserve or deferred payment bucket. Eventually, though, the truth came out and investors got hurt.

So the accounting board has set up elaborate regulations governing when a contract is a hedge and when it’s a speculation. There’s even a small sub-industry to help firms deal with the mystical world of swap-land, so that they don’t fall afoul of the rules.

The problem with accounting is people want simple answers when life is too complicated for simple answers. What gets measured gets done, and we need to figure out how to put investors back in charge of the measurement.

Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Chief Investment Officer
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By | 2014-09-11T09:16:32+00:00 November 16th, 2011|Global Market Update|0 Comments

About the Author:

Mr. Tengdin is the Chief Investment Officer at Charter Trust Company and author of “The Global Market Update”. The audio version of each post can be heard on radio stations throughout New England every weekday. Mr. Tengdin graduated from Dartmouth College, Magna Cum Laude. He received his Master of Arts from Trinity Divinity School, Magna Cum Laude and received his Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation in 1992. Mr. Tengdin has been managing investment portfolios for over 30 years, working for Bank of Boston, State Street Global Advisors, Citibank – Tunisia, and Banknorth Group. Throughout his career, Mr. Tengdin has emphasized helping clients manage their financial risks in difficult environments where they can profit from investing in diverse assets in diverse settings. –
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