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February 21, 2013

U.S. Banks Bigger Than GDP as Accounting Rift Masks Risk

Warning: Banks in the U.S. are bigger than they appear.

That label, like a similar one on automobile side-view mirrors, might be required of the four largest U.S. lenders if Thomas Hoenig, vice chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., has his way. Applying stricter accounting standards for derivatives and off-balance-sheet assets would make the banks twice as big as they say they are — or about the size of the U.S. economy — according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“Derivatives, like loans, carry risk,” Hoenig said in an interview. “To recognize those bets on the balance sheet would give a better picture of the risk exposures that are there.”

U.S. accounting rules allow banks to record a smaller portion of their derivatives than European peers and keep most mortgage-linked bonds off their books. That can underestimate the risks firms face and affect how much capital they need.”

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Read full Bloomberg article here

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