Groundhog Day

Leslie Seidman remembered her history this week, but she still seemed condemned to repeat it.

The acting chairman of the Financial Accounting Standards Board appeared Monday on a panel at a Financial Executives International conference, along with a representative of the FASB's international counterpart, to provide an update on their recent actions.

Toward the end of the presentation, Seidman recalled giving a similar talk to the same group five years ago, when she was explaining the FASB's pursuit of an unpopular proposal regarding the use of fair value for the purposes of revenue recognition.

"It was kind of a rough session for me, and I said, 'Maybe next time we should send someone who actually voted for the proposal,' " said Seidman.

Of course this year, one of the focal points of her presentation was about the FASB's pursuit of an unpopular proposal regarding the use of fair value, this time for the purpose of accounting for a wide range of financial instruments, including loans held to maturity.

And Seidman, a former J.P. Morgan & Co. accounting policy executive who became a FASB board member in 2003, was in the minority on several of the crucial 3-2 votes that shaped the scope and content of the fair-value proposal that FASB presented in May.

Seidman became acting chairman of the board Oct. 1, replacing Robert Herz, who had been a strong proponent of applying fair-value accounting to financial instruments.

Same Old Story?

Citigroup Inc., the company that under former management famously danced until the music stopped, is finally singing a new tune. Or rather an old tune, choreographed with some new moves.

So suggests Jeff Harte, the analyst who covers Citi for Sandler O'Neill & Partners LP, in a report Thursday reiterating his "buy" rating on the stock and evaluating Citi's strategy.

"Don't mistake management's theme of 'leverage the global platform' as the same old song and dance," Harte wrote. "While not a new strategic theme, there is a new management team working on execution, and evidence to date suggests it is delivering."

In sticking his neck out for a company with a long history of execution troubles, Harte argued that "emerging expense discipline" and a chastened view of risk management makes the current leadership team's approach different.

He said Citi's international consumer business has attractive growth prospects that more domestically focused rivals won't benefit from, and overall he considers Citi "a cheap stock" despite a year-to-date run-up of 27%.

Book of Navarone

Ever since the financial crisis began, JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Jamie Dimon has argued that his company emerged intact from a trauma that bruised many peers. In doing so, he's relied heavily on a certain catchphrase: his bank's "fortress balance sheet."

A Factiva search of the phrase yields dozens of citations of those words — and not all of them coming from Dimon himself. Reporters and editors have picked up the meme, citing the "fortress" as shorthand for JPMorgan Chase's strength and stability. One article about Dimon in Financial Times even came with the headline "Guard of the Fortress."

But Bank of America Corp. CEO Brian Moynihan also seems to be staking a claim to the term. Twice in two months, he's given speeches to investors that reference the company's efforts to maintain its "fortress balance sheet."

We'll leave it to others to adjudicate which CEO holds proper title on the phrase, which predates both.

But all the fortress talk raises some interesting questions: Would Troubled Asset Relief Program injections in the two men's fortresses best be considered an involuntary occupation? And should any institution with a multibillion-dollar portfolio of residential second liens largely marked at 100 cents on the dollar be calling themselves a fortress quite yet?

It's All in the Title

For the past week, movie crews have been parked near the southern tip of Manhattan filming the HBO movie version of Andrew Ross Sorkin's book "Too Big to Fail."

Though American Banker hasn't managed to catch a glimpse of Bill Pullman's version of Jamie Dimon, the script and production trucks give a clue about the movie's philosophical underpinnings. They're all registered to a New York film company called Not Another Bailout Productions Inc.

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