Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Moving assets off balance sheet?

Yesterday's Wall St Journal, talking about the future worth of financial stocks (which is doubtful) said "The big profit gains reported by many financial companies in receent years were magnified by borrowing and moving assets off their balance sheets...."
Does this make sense? Balance sheets contain assets and liabilities. Assets are good, cash in the til, money owed to you, things you can sell. Liabilities are bad, debts, money you owe to others, taxes, stuff like that.
Why move assets "off balance sheet"? I can see moving liabilities off balance sheet, like the money borrowed to buy sub prime mortgages, but why assets?
Or is this another accounting scam, like the $36 billion of imaginary assets that GM removed from it's books last fall? I suppose it was a good thing that GM 'fessed up and showed a $39 billion dollar loss last year, but just as aggravating is to find that GM had been padding it's books by putting imaginary assets on them all these years.

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