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Forensic Accounting

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This has been a bad year for banks. With sovereign debt no longer trusted and widespread fears of a new recession in Europe, share prices of banks have fallen sharply. But in some cases, the financial statements look ever so much rosier. JPMorgan Chase reported net income of $15.3 billion during the first three quarters of this year, 22 percent higher than in the period a year earlier and a record for the first nine months of any year. There are explanations for that — and JPMorgan Chase deserves praise for calling attention to reasons to think the numbers are misleading. But at base the problem is a simple one: Accounting for financial institutions is a mess. And it is getting worse.

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