The share prices of some thrifts and banks with large mortgage banking operations are likely to become more volatile as a result of a new accounting standard for the valuation of mortgage servicing rights.
Standard Federal Bancorp of Troy, Mich., recently became the first big thrift to adopt the rule, FAS 122, retroactively - adding $1.75 million, or 5 cents a share, to its net income for the first quarter. The company's share price jumped about 5% in the three days following the restatement.
But the rule, which could have the opposite effect in different interest rate environments, "is making some thrift managers a little cautious because they are booking an asset that may disappear in the future," said Kay Lister, an analyst with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc.
Joseph A. Jolson, an analyst with Montgomery Securities in San Francisco, warns against reading too much into the higher earnings. Any changes to earnings resulting from the rule are illusory, he says.
"It doesn't change anything in the economic value of the company," he said. "It's just an accounting change."
He said the rule will have the most effect on the earnings of those institutions competing in the fixed-rate-mortgage market. And since most thrifts have been aggressively originating adjustable-rate mortgages, he said, only a few companies, such as Standard Federal and Irvine, Calif.- based Imperial Credit Industries Inc. - which owns Culver City, Calif.- based Southern Pacific Thrift and Loan, an FDIC-insured industrial loan company - will have earnings affected by more than a penny or so a share.
The reason for the increased volatility is that the rule, introduced by the Federal Accounting Standards Board in May, requires companies that originate mortgages to treat the servicing rights as a separate asset after the loans are securitized and sold. If more mortgages are securitized, or the market price for these rights changes, then the institution must account for the change in value in its income statement.
The problem is especially acute when interest rates are falling. Joseph Krul, Standard Federal's chief financial officer, said the reason is that a large percentage of mortgages are refinanced when rates decline, forcing the servicer to amortize its rights portfolio more quickly and reduce earnings.
But because the change is merely a paper transaction, any effect on stock prices will come only to the extent that investors did not consider these values in the first place, Mr. Jolson said.
In Standard Federal's case, however, the gulf between book value and market value may be significant enough to make a difference. Mr. Krul contends the reported value of about $60 million is still $40 million shy of the portfolio's market value of $100 million as of March 31.
The accounting recognition of this asset at Standard Federal may have contributed to the stock price run-up that immediately followed the thrift's restatement of earnings. The stock closed June 16 - the last trading day before the announcement - at $31.875 a share. Three days later, it matched its 52-week high of $33.50 a share, before sliding back to $32.875 in afternoon trading Wednesday.
The accounting treatment of these assets can have an effect on value in the merger market. Ms. Lister said First Tennessee National Corp. of Memphis weighed the implications of the rule change carefully before it set out to acquire three large mortgage banking operations over the past two years.
She cautioned, however, that where the accounting rule will have a large affect is in the market for servicing rights. It is unlikely that the new standard will have much of an effect on the values of mortgage companies in the merger market.
Nonetheless, earnings results of mortgage companies acquired by First Tennessee, as well as the mortgage operations bought by money-center banks like Chase Manhattan Corp., Chemical Banking Corp., and BankAmerica Corp. should get a boost from the rule.