The organization that sets national accounting standards has ruled against an unusual bookkeeping technique used by some savings and loans, contending the financial health of those institutions is being exaggerated, a Federal Home Loan Bank Board official said yesterday.
So far, the technique -- created by the bank board, which regulates savings and loans -- has been used by three S&Ls to increase their net worth by $124 million.
The decision by the Financial Accounting Standards Board will force Columbia First Federal Savings & Loan, the District's largest S&L, to decrease its net worth -- the difference between assets and obligations -- by $15 million unless it adds that much cash, the bank board official said.
Similarly, the net worth of Meritor Savings Bank in Arlington will be adversely affected by $100 million, even though the net worth of its parent, PSFS Bank of Philadelphia, will remain unchanged. Security Savings & Loan of Jackson, Miss., faces a loss of $9 million from its net worth.
The three institutions will continue to have healthy balance sheets even if they cannot come up with more cash and have to take the write-offs, though their values will fall, bank board officials said yesterday.
At issue is a bank board policy of allowing notes called income capital certificates to be counted as permanent funding, or equity. The General Accounting Office, the watchdog agency of Congress, and several former federal regulators have criticized the certificates as accounting gimmicks that mask the troubles of the S&L industry.
In the income capital certificate program, the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp., the division of the bank board that insures deposits up to $100,000, gives a troubled institution a promissory note that the institution can count as an asset and boost its net worth.
Nearly all the institutions holding the $2.5 billion in certificates that the bank board has issued have an obligation to retire the notes within several years, so they cannot count the notes as permanent funding.
In the case of Columbia, PSFS and Security, however, the bank board went a step further by allowing the thrifts or their subsidiaries to carry the certificates indefinitely and treat them as permanent funding.
That practice came into question last month, however, when Citizens Savings Financial Corp., a thrift holding company based in Miami and regulated by the SEC, asked the SEC if the agency would permit Citizens to carry the notes as equity. The bank board would have given certificates to Citizens as a way to encourage it to buy an ailing thrift, just as PSFS, Security and Columbia First received notes for buying ailing institutions.
The SEC asked the Financial Accounting Standards Board for an opinion. The FASB said in a letter dated March 28 that unless the certificates were accompanied by cash, they should not count as permanent funding.
The chairman of the SEC and of the FASB are expected to announce the ruling during hearings today held by Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the oversight subcomittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, on the financial reporting techniques of banks and savings institutions.
The FASB is an independent agency that is charged by the SEC with writing rules for financial accounting and reporting. The accounting rules of the FASB are called generally accepted accounting principles and are followed by the SEC and most publicly traded corporations.
A key goal of the FASB rules is to require companies to report financial results in a manner that gives investors a true picture of their health and stability.
The SEC and the bank board have accepted the FASB recommendation, a bank board official said. Under securities laws, the SEC governs the financial reporting of most publicly traded companies, while the bank board has the responsiblity for savings and loans. The bank board is not bound by SEC policy, but traditionally has tried to follow it.
In recent years, however, record S&L failures forced the bank board to adopt a series of novel accounting techniques to keep many institutions afloat.