Marking to Market versus Taking to Market

While the debate on cost and market-value accounting has been raging for years, economists lack a framework allowing a comparison of their relative merits. This paper considers an agency model in which the measurement of an asset can be based on public market data (marking to market) and/or on the realization of its value through costly resale to an informed buyer (taking to market). At the optimal contract, noisier market data lead to cost accounting and gains trading (selling winners/keeping losers) whereas accurate data naturally favor market-value accounting. The quality of market data and the magnitude of resale costs both depend on the volume of transactions, and therefore on accounting rules. The paper studies the mutual feedback between individually optimal accounting rules and asset market liquidity. This equilibrium approach reveals a socially excessive use of market-value accounting that dries up market liquidity and reduces the informativeness of price signals.

Publication number: 
DP 51