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May 13, 2024

Mark-to-Market Accounting: The What, Why, and How

Pooja Lodariya



Imagine you're trying to gauge the financial health of a company. Financial statements, like a balance sheet and income statement, act as a company's financial report card. They provide a snapshot of a company's assets, liabilities, revenues, and expenses. But how are these items valued?

This is where Mark-to-Market (MTM) accounting comes in. MTM is a method that goes beyond simply looking at the historical cost of an item. It aims to give a more up-to-date picture by valuing assets and liabilities based on their current market worth.

In this blog, we'll delve into the world of MTM accounting, exploring its uses, limitations, and alternatives.

Understanding Mark-to-Market

Mark-to-market (MTM) accounting is a method that values assets and liabilities on a financial statement based on their estimated fair value in the current market. This differs from the traditional historical cost principle, which simply records the original purchase price of an asset.

Here's how MTM works:

  • Fair Value: Imagine you could sell an asset today - what would you realistically expect to get for it? MTM aims to capture this fair market value, reflecting current market conditions like supply and demand.

  • Reflecting the Market: For example, if a company invested in stocks that have increased in value since purchase, MTM would adjust the value of those stocks on the balance sheet upwards to reflect their current market price. This provides a more accurate picture of the company's overall financial position.

However, it's important to note that MTM relies on the concept of readily available market prices. This means there should be a liquid market for the asset or liability in question, with frequent transactions and easily obtainable price quotes.

If such a market doesn't exist, MTM valuation can become more subjective and require the use of estimation techniques.

Uses of Mark-to-Market Accounting

Mark-to-Market (MTM) accounting offers several advantages for understanding a company's financial health:

Accurate Picture of Financial Position:

By reflecting current market values, MTM provides a more up-to-date snapshot of a company's assets and liabilities. This allows for a better assessment of the company's true net worth and overall financial strength.

Informed Decision-Making:

MTM helps users of financial statements, like investors and creditors, make more informed decisions. Knowing the current risk exposure of a company's assets and liabilities, based on market fluctuations, allows for a more fine evaluation of potential risks and rewards.

MTM also plays a crucial role in specific financial instruments:


Derivatives, like futures contracts, constantly fluctuate in value based on underlying assets like stocks or commodities. MTM ensures these contracts are valued at their current market price daily, reflecting the ever-changing risk profile associated with them. This helps manage risk exposure for both parties involved in the derivative contract.

Also Read: Flip the Script on Recording: Dive into the World of Automated Bookkeeping

Disadvantages of Mark-to-Market Accounting

While Mark-to-Market (MTM) offers valuable insights, it's not without its drawbacks:

Market Volatility:

Financial markets are inherently volatile, meaning prices can fluctuate significantly in the short term. MTM can be sensitive to these fluctuations, leading to unrealized gains or losses on the balance sheet. These may not reflect the true underlying value of the asset and can create a misleading picture of a company's financial performance, especially if the market downturn is temporary.

Earnings Volatility:

The short-term fluctuations captured by MTM can translate to increased earnings volatility. A company's reported earnings may swing wildly from period to period due to unrealized gains or losses, making it difficult to assess the company's long-term profitability and growth potential.

Subjectivity and Manipulation:

For certain assets, readily available market prices might not exist. In such cases, MTM valuation relies on estimation techniques and assumptions. This subjectivity can create an opportunity for manipulation, as companies might choose valuation methods that inflate or deflate the value of assets to suit their needs.

Alternatives to Mark-to-Market Accounting

Mark-to-Market (MTM) is not the only way to value assets and liabilities. Here are some alternatives:

Historical Cost Principle:

The traditional method, historical cost, simply records assets at their original purchase price. While it lacks the real-time reflection of MTM, it offers advantages like:

  • Simplicity and Consistency: Easy to understand and implement, providing consistent valuation over time.

  • Focus on Long-Term Performance: Less susceptible to short-term market fluctuations, allowing for a clearer picture of a company's long-term financial health.

Lower-of-Cost-or-Market (LCM):

This method takes a more conservative approach, valuing assets at the lower of their historical cost or current market value. LCM can be useful for specific assets with a risk of decline in value, but it doesn't provide a complete picture of a company's overall financial position.

Ultimately, the choice between MTM and these alternatives depends on the specific circumstances and the type of asset being valued. Companies and regulators weigh the benefits and drawbacks of each method to determine the most appropriate approach for a given situation.

Also Read: Workflow Automation Best Practices for Your Accounting Toolbox

MTM in Action and Setting the Standards in India

Real-World Examples of MTM in India:

  • Mutual Funds: Similar to investment companies globally, mutual funds in India rely on MTM to value their portfolios. This ensures accurate Net Asset Values (NAV) are reflected for investors.

  • Banking Sector: MTM is used by Indian banks to value certain investment portfolios and trading assets. This helps maintain accurate risk assessments and capital adequacy ratios.

The Role of Regulatory Bodies in India

In India, the primary body setting accounting standards is the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI). They issue pronouncements and guidance based on the Framework for the Preparation and Presentation of Financial Statements (Framework), which is aligned with International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS).

The ICAI provides specific guidance on MTM application in various situations. Here's a brief overview:

  • Equity Instruments: MTM is generally mandated for equity instruments held for trading or available for sale.

  • Debt Instruments: MTM may be applied to certain debt instruments with readily available market prices. However, the historical cost method with effective interest rate amortization remains an acceptable alternative for some debt instruments.

  • Derivatives: MTM is mandatory for valuing derivative instruments to reflect their fair value and associated risks.

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