Strange things in the BofA and Citi earnings statements

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Back in April, I wrote about the odd way in which investor concerns about potential defaults at Citigroup and Bank of America were boosting the banks’ earnings. I quoted commenter sulliclm‘s explanation:

they have to mark their liabilities to fair value, and in the case of their own debt (or in this case liabilities on derivative positions), they have to consider their own default potential as a component of fair value. So the more likely it becomes that Citi will default on their debt/swaps, the less those instruments are worth to the investors that hold them. Therefore the accounting guidance says that Citi should reduce the value of the liabilities on their books, and they book this reduction as a gain through the income statement. As an auditor I find the guidance to be ridiculous, but its the rule so companies are following it …

So maybe BofA and Citi are much healthier than their earnings numbers make them look. Or maybe not: The former head of fixed-income research at none other than BofA, David Goldman, figures the trading profits reported by all the big banks are largely the result of an unsustainable surge in the market price of the mortgage-related “toxic waste” still on their books. Which would make it sort of a wash, or worse. Don’t you just love accounting?