Risk scientists look beyond their silos
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Risk scientists look beyond their silos

Since Russia and LTCM, risk managers have been searching for a better way to value financial firms and the risks they run. Amazingly, they and their regulators temporarily lost sight of an important relationship - between financial assets and the way they are funded. David Shirreff reports on a meeting at the sharp end of firm-wide risk management

Regulators and regulated are running scared after the events of August and September last year. "I'm more confused about valuation [of financial assets] than I have been for some time, said a leading risk manager at a brain-storming session in Geneva last month.

But the shock to the risk-management community is producing some new, or perhaps old, thinking: a financial firm's risk assets can only truly be valued in relation to its liabilities. For example: take an illiquid investment such as a venture-capital stake. If a firm is funding that stake in the money market it runs a liquidity risk and must mark the investment at liquidation value. If it's funding the stake with its own equity, then marking it to market at liquidation value makes economic nonsense: accrual or cost accounting are more appropriate.

Applying that principle to the different parts of a complex investment bank could prove a nightmare. But ultimately it may make more sense than marking all assets to market, especially since historical volatility has proved such a bad guide to the future.

Russia's default on August 17 1998 and the near-collapse of Long-Term Capital Management (LTCM) a month later jolted banks and their supervisors out of the comfortable notion that the prevailing market price is the best guide to valuing assets.

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