October 17, 2018

Federal Reserve

Did PwC Help the Fed Cook Its Books?

After every Federal Open Market Committee meeting, you can peek into the Fed’s brain in a highly succinct fashion when the statement and minutes are released shortly after it ends but five years must pass before the full transcript of the meetings is released to the public. If you’re playing along at home, that means the FOMC transcripts should be full of all sorts of intriguing info specifically pertaining to the market collapse of 2008 on or around 2013.

But we’re talking about the 1999 minutes today and that’s where Adrian Douglas at Market Force Analysis comes in. He decided to read through some of the now-available minutes (hey, we all need hobbies) and look at what we have here. Did PwC help the Fed brush out a material accounting boo-boo?


Maybe when you actually create the money and the financial accounting handbook to go with your audits you can get away with sort of thing but something about this just doesn’t sit right.

This is System Open Market Account Manager Peter Fisher speaking to the committee:

Last spring, as members of the Committee will recall, we entered into a series of transactions with the ESF to re-balance our euro and yen holdings so we could come to a better split both in terms of total holdings and the currency mix. This involved a number of transfers of ownership of a series of investments and resulted in quite a significant amount of accounting activity. In the course of reviewing that, our own accounting staff identified an error that had been introduced in the prior year in our treatment of the premium on bonds held in the accrual account, overstating the accrual account by about $5 million. In the course of confirming that, they identified an additional $26.6 million overstatement in the accrual account for interest on foreign currency investments. We have had a number of staff members working full time trying to trace the source of that $26.6 million overstatement. They have worked back through the records to December 1994, before which detailed records at the transaction level just no longer exist due to the routine and appropriate destruction of documents.

The Board examiners were at our Bank to conduct an examination of the System Open Market Account in September and PricewaterhouseCoopers also has looked over our methodology to try to trace this overstatement back through time and find its source. PricewaterhouseCoopers is confident that we have traced it back as far as we can. They have tested our work papers and agree with our conclusion that we simply can’t go back any further.

After a quick back and forth over whether or not this could be a diversion involving a few folks within the Fed working together to funnel out the money and shooting that theory down, they present the solution:

The Board’s staff and our accounting function at the New York Fed have worked out an accounting treatment to correct for both the $5 million and the $26.6 million errors. That involves reducing the accrued interest asset account by the entire $31.6 million, with an offsetting reduction in interest income on foreign currency investments. We will make that adjustment before the end of the year and spread it among all the Reserve Banks. Of course, for all of us with responsibilities for SOMA this is an embarrassing, indeed humbling, event. As a technical matter, though, I understand that PricewaterhouseCoopers is comfortable with the conclusion of both our accounting and audit function and the Board staff that this is not a material event for purposes of disclosure for any Reserve Bank.

That’s right, the Fed fudged the numbers to make things add up right and PwC gave it the all clear. Perhaps I’m a bit ignorant on how things work but “working out an accounting treatment” to scrub out over $30 million in errors is no easy feat, maybe friend of GC and former criminal Sam Antar can give us some hints on how to accomplish such a task?

Notice also that no one else gets the privilege of “the routine and appropriate destruction of documents,” leading us to ask the obvious question: how is it they get away with it?

Accounting News Roundup: Dissecting Overstock.com’s Q1 Earnings; The “Audit the Fed” Drum Still Has a Beat; AMT Patchwork Continues | 05.05.10

Can Investors Rely on Overstock.com’s Reported Q1 2010 Numbers? [White Collar Fraud]
Sam Antar is skeptical (an understatement at best), that Overstock.com’s recently filed first quarter 10-Q is reliable and he starts off by citing their own words (his emphasis):

“As of March 31, 2010, we had not remediated the material weaknesses.”


Material weaknesses notwithstanding, Sam is a little conpany’s first quarter $3.72 million profit that, Sam writes, “was helped in large part by a $3.1 million reduction in its estimated allowance for returns or sales returns reserves when compared to Q1 2009.”

Furthermore, several one-time items helped the company swing from a net loss of nearly $4 million in Q1 of ’09, including nearly $2 million in extinguishment of debt and reduction in legal expenses due to a settlement. All this (and much more) gets Sam to conclude that OSTK’s Q1 earnings are “highly suspect.”

UBS Dividend in Next 2-3 Years ‘Symbolic’: CFO [CNBC]
UBS has fallen on hard times. The IRS, Bradley Birkenfeld, a Toblerone shortage and increased regulation and liquidity requirements have all made life for the Mother of Swiss Banks difficult and CFO John Ryan told CNBC that could hurt their ability to pay their usual robust dividend, “They (capital regulations) are essentially rigorous to the extent that it is unlikely we’ll be able to pay anything other than a very symbolic dividend over the next two or three years,” Cryan said.

While that is a bummer but a “symbolic” dividend is still an improvement over “we’ve recently been informed that the Internal Revenue Service and Justice Department will be demanding that we turn over the names of our U.S. clients.”

Effort to expand audits of Fed picks up steam in Senate [WaPo]
Going after the Fed makes for good political theatre (*ahem* Ron Paul) and rhetoric to fire up the torches of the populist masses. The “Audit the Fed” drum continues to be beaten by the likes of Rep. Paul (R-TX) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to much success and Sanders is quoted in the Washington Post as saying “We’re going to get a vote.” Pols want to crack open the books at the Fed to find out what the ugliest of the ugly is inside our Central Bank.

Ben Bernanke isn’t hot on the idea because letting the GAO sniff around may expose the Fed to short-term political pressures. For once AG – not a fan of the Beard per se – sides with BSB. As she said last fall:

It’s right there in the footnotes – pulling out the closest Fed annual report I’ve got (Richmond Fed 2007), both Deloitte and PwC agree that the Fed is a special case in Note 3: Significant Accounting Policies:

“Accounting principles for entities with unique powers and responsibilities of the nation’s central bank have not been formulated by accounting standard-setting bodies.”

The note goes on to explain why government securities held by the Fed are presented at amortized cost instead of GAAP’s fair value presentation because “amortized cost more appropriately reflects the Bank’s securities holdings given the System’s unique responsibility to conduct monetary policy.” Right there, you can see why auditing this thing might be a problem.

This might be one of those “careful what you wish for” scenarios.

Why We’re Going to Keep Patching the AMT—And Why It Will Cost So Much [Tax Vox]
The Alternative Minimum Tax has been a unmitigated failure in the eyes of many tax wonks. Congress has been talking reform in this area for some time and yet, the AMT remains largely unchanged, relying on temporary fixes that could eventually turn into a disaster:

Last year, about 4 million households were hit by the tax, which requires unsuspecting taxpayers to redo their returns without the benefit of many common tax deductions and personal exemptions. That would jump to 28.5 million this year, except for what’s become an annual fix to the levy, which effectively holds the number of AMT victims steady.

Here’s what happens if Washington does not continue that “temporary” adjustment. If Obama gets his wish and extends nearly all of the Bush taxes, the number of households hit by the AMT would soar to more than 53 million by the end of the decade—nearly half of all taxpayers. AMT revenues—about $33 million last year—would triple this year and reach nearly $300 billion by 2020. That is a nearly 10-fold explosion in AMT revenues.

Howard Gleckman argues that the AMT is too big of a political threat to let members of Congress let this sneak by and that the patchwork will continue but that it probably shouldn’t, “The President can assume the AMT will be patched indefinitely, but assuming won’t pay the bills. Unless he is willing to raise other taxes or cut spending to pay for this AMT fix, he’ll have to borrow more than $1 trillion to kick the can down the road for the rest of this decade.”