NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Did Fair-Value Accounting Contribute to the Financial Crisis?

Christian Laux, Christian Leuz

NBER Working Paper No. 15515
Issued in November 2009
NBER Program(s):   CF

The recent financial crisis has led to a major debate about fair-value accounting. Many critics have argued that fair-value accounting, often also called mark-to-market accounting, has significantly contributed to the financial crisis or, at least, exacerbated its severity. In this paper, we assess these arguments and examine the role of fair-value accounting in the financial crisis using descriptive data and empirical evidence. Based on our analysis, it is unlikely that fair-value accounting added to the severity of the current financial crisis in a major way. While there may have been downward spirals or asset-fire sales in certain markets, we find little evidence that these effects are the result of fair-value accounting. We also find little support for claims that fair-value accounting leads to excessive write-downs of banks’ assets. If anything, empirical evidence to date points in the opposite direction, that is, towards overvaluation of bank assets.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w15515

Published: Christian Laux & Christian Leuz, 2010. "Did Fair-Value Accounting Contribute to the Financial Crisis?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 24(1), pages 93-118, Winter.

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