Sunday, June 29, 2014

Charlie Munger on Accounting for Derivatives

This is from a few years before the financial crisis (from Poor Charlie's Almanack):
I hate with a passion GAAP [Generally Accepted Accounting Principles] as applied to derivatives and swaps. JP Morgan sold out to  this type of accounting to front-end revenues. I think it's a disgrace.

It's bonkers, and the accountants sold out. Everyone caved, adopted loose [accounting] standards, and created exotic derivatives linked to theoretical models. As a result, all kinds of earnings, blessed by accountants, are not really being earned. When you reach for the money, it melts away. It was never there. 

It [accounting and derivatives] is just disgusting. It is a sewer, and if I'm right, there will be hell to pay in due course. All of you will have to prepare to deal with a blowup of derivative books. 


We tried to sell Gen Re's derivatives operation and couldn't, so we started liquidating it. We had to take big markdowns. I would confidently predict that most of the derivative books of [this country's] major banks cannot be liquidated for anything like what they're carried on the books at. When the denouement will happen and how severe it will be, I don't know. But I fear the consequences could be fearsome. I think there are major problems, worse than in the energy field, and look at the destruction there. 

I'll be amazed if we don't have some kind of significant [derivatives-related] blowup in the next five to ten years.