Roundtable Requests Industry Regulators to Suspend Mark-To-Market Accounting Rules and Suspend New CECL Accounting Standard to Prevent Exacerbating Economic Crisis

FASB logo

The Real Estate Roundtable this week submitted two requests to the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) and securities regulators to prevent exacerbating the destructive economic repercussions of the coronavirus crisis. The first letter urges the immediate suspension of “mark-to-market” accounting rules (FAS 157).  The second letter encourages the expansion a provision in the CARES Act that suspends the new Current Expected Credit Losses (CECL) for banks – by including non-banking financial institutions and insurance companies. (Mark-to-Market letter, March 31 and CECL letter, April 1)

  • On March 31, The Roundtable addressed the mark-to-market – or “fair value” – rules in a comment letter to regulators.  Measuring an asset at fair value records it at a price it would obtain in an orderly market instead of the asset’s original purchase cost.  During unfavorable or volatile markets, the method does not accurately represent an asset’s true value.  (BGov, March 31)
  • When the market-based measurement no longer accurately represents the underlying asset’s true value, a company should not be forced to calculate the selling price of these assets or liabilities during unfavorable or volatile times, such as today’s COVID-19 crisis.
  • The Roundtable letter explains that the mark-to-market rules will further exacerbate the growing financial crisis. As many tenants will not be able to meet their debt obligations, liquidity in credit and capital markets has frozen, and the value of asset-backed securities collateral (including commercial mortgage-backed securities, or CMBS) is now set to decline.
  • “In light of these events, it is important for the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) to take action to immediately suspend mark-to-market accounting. It is simply not possible to properly value assets in illiquid and non-functioning markets,” the letter states.
  • During the financial crisis of 2008-2009, the FASB voted on and approved new guidelines that  allowed for asset valuation to be based on a price that would be received in an orderly market rather than a forced liquidation.  The Roundtable letter encourages the FASB to take similar action now.
  • On April 1, The Roundtable wrote to the FASB and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) urging the regulators to expand the suspension of  the new Current Expected Credit Losses (CECL) accounting standard during the current COVID-19 crisis beyond banks – to include all companies, including non-bank financial companies and insurance companies. (Roundtable CECL letter, April 1)
  • The CARES Act allows federally insured financial institutions to delay the implementation of the CECL standard.  Additionally, federal banking regulators recently issued an interim final rule allowing lenders to delay the estimated impact on regulatory capital. 
  • The new CECL standard changes the way banks calculate reserves on assets, requiring banks and nonbanking finance companies to estimate the expected loss over the life of a loan. For real estate, there is concern that this new standard will exacerbate the current liquidity crisis.
  • While CECL is expected to have the greatest impact on banks (which typically have extensive financial instrument portfolios), even non-banking entities are very likely to hold financial instruments within the scope of CECL.
  • U.S. commercial and multifamily real estate encompasses approximately $16 trillion in income-producing assets, supported by over $4 trillion in debt – mostly provided by commercial banks, life companies and commercial mortgage backed securities (CMBS).
  • Therefore, it is important to apply this CECL suspension to non-bank finance companies, including life companies who also play a significant role in providing essential liquidity to the commercial real estate industry. The Roundtable letter encourages the FASB to suspend application of the new CECL standard for all companies.  

The Roundtable’s Real Estate Capital and Credit Policy Advisory Committee (RECPAC) will continue to provide expertise and insight into policy steps that will help support the restoration of necessary market liquidity resulting from the COVID19 crisis. 

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Top Senate Democratic Tax-Writer Proposes New Capital Gains Regime, Ending Preferred Rate

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)

On Thursday, Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) presented and released a detailed white paper outlining his plan to reform the taxation of capital gains.  (News Conference Video, Center for American Progress Action Fund, Sept. 12)   

  • Entitled “Treat Wealth Like Wages,” the proposal is billed by the top Democratic tax-writer in the Senate as “a plan to fix our broken tax code, ensure the wealthy pay their fair share, and protect Social Security.”  Sen. Wyden’s proposal would end the preferred tax rate for capital gains and impose annual mark-to-market taxation of capital assets for taxpayers above certain income thresholds.
  • Both proposals represent dramatic departures from existing tax law.  They are direct challenges to two fundamental principles that support capital formation, entrepreneurship, and long-term investment: (1) tax on capital gain should be deferred until it is realized, and (2) capital gain should be subject to a reduced tax rate.
  • The mark-to-market rules, which Sen. Wyden refers to as “anti-deferral accounting rules, would apply to taxpayers averaging $1 million in income or $10 million in assets over the last 3 years.  “Tradable” assets such as stocks and bonds would be subject to annual taxation of unrealized gains. Taxpayers could take a deduction for unrealized losses.
  • While “non-tradable” assets like real estate would not be subject to mark-to-market on an annual basis, they would be subject to an additional layer of tax – a “look-back charge” – for the theoretical benefit of the tax deferral when the asset is sold, or certain other revaluation events occur.  This look-back charge would be in addition to the capital gains tax, which would be set at the top ordinary income tax rate. 
  • The structure of the look-back charge is undefined.  Sen. Wyden’s paper describes a few options:  (1) an interest charge on deferred tax; (2) a yield-based tax designed to eliminate the benefits of deferral; or (3) a surtax based on an asset’s holding period.  The look-back charge would also be imposed at death, even if the asset is not sold (the basis of the asset would step up at death).
  • Special rules would apply for pass-through entities.  For example, the Wyden proposal would require a partnership to calculate the lookback charge when real estate is contributed to or distributed from the partnership – and report each partner’s share.
  • Built-in gain on existing assets would be subject to the tax, paid over an unspecified transition period.  The estimated $1.5 – $2 trillion of revenue raised from the proposal would be dedicated towards shoring up the long-term solvency of Social Security.  (CNBC, Sept. 12)

  • “Congress should strengthen tax rules that promote capital formation, not weaken them, which is what Sen. Wyden’s proposal would do,” said Real Estate Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey DeBoer.  He added, “Rewarding risk-taking, long-term investment, and entrepreneurship is at the heart of the American economic model. By eliminating any tax incentive to pursue projects that have a pay-off that is far in the future, the proposal would discourage businesses and individuals from undertaking the long-term, capital-intensive investments that drive productivity and economic growth by deepening and enriching our Nation’s capital stock, including its commercial real estate.”   

    Sen. Wyden invited comments about the proposal on a wide variety of issues, such as how to calculate the look-back charge and whether debt should reduce the value of property when measuring a taxpayer’s aggregate assets.   The Roundtable’s Tax Policy Advisory Committee (TPAC) plans to review the proposal in detail and submit comments.  

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