Too big to fail and bank loan accounting in developing nations: Evidence from the Mexican financial crisis

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During the 1990s and early 2000s, developing nations in all parts of the world experienced financial crisis. Studies have documented, both theoretically and empirically, that authorities’ guarantee that insolvent financial institutions would be “bailed out” increased the incentives of banks, especially large institutions, to take on excessive loan risk. However, little research has been conducted on how the possibility of being “bailed out” impacts banks’ decisions regarding the understatement of loan loss reserves (i.e. the tendency to conceal loan risk). We argue that the Mexican financial crisis of the 1990s represents a rich setting to investigate the link between “bailout assistance” and banks’ accounting for loan loss reserves. The analysis of loan trends for the entire financial system shows that Mexican banks fully reserved non-performing loans not in 1997, when new accounting standards took effect, but rather in 1999–2001, after the largest institutions had been sold to foreign banks and international bailout assistance had been exhausted. Also, the results show that in the period preceding their sale to foreign institutions, “Too Big To Fail” (TBTF) banks used bailout assistance to directly manage their reserves. By contrast smaller banks used non-bailout sources of capital to reserve non-performing consumer loans, and directly swapped non-performing commercial loans for bailout assistance. Thus, while both TBTF and smaller banks utilized bailout assistance, the bailout funds only affected loan loss reserve levels in the case of TBTF banks.

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Research in Accounting Regulation