This excerpt taken from the AGO 10-K filed Mar 1, 2010.
Marking-to-market the Company's insured credit derivatives portfolio may subject net income to volatility.
The Company is required to mark-to-market certain derivatives that it insures, including CDS that are considered derivatives under GAAP. Although there is no cash flow effect from this "marking-to-market," net changes in the fair market value of the derivative are reported in the Company's consolidated statements of operations and therefore affect its reported earnings. As a result of such treatment, and given the large principal balance of the Company's CDS portfolio, small changes in the market pricing for insurance of CDS will generally result in the Company recognizing material gains or losses, with material market price increases generally resulting in large reported losses under GAAP. Accordingly, the Company's GAAP earnings will be more volatile than would be suggested by the actual performance of its business operations and insured portfolio.
The fair value of a credit derivative will be affected by any event causing changes in the credit spread (i.e., the difference in interest rates between comparable securities having different credit risk) on an underlying security referenced in the credit derivative. Common events that may cause credit spreads on an underlying municipal or corporate security referenced in a credit derivative to fluctuate include changes in the state of national or regional economic conditions, industry cyclicality, changes to a company's competitive position within an industry, management changes, changes in the ratings of the underlying security, movements in interest rates, default or failure to pay interest, or any other factor leading investors to revise expectations about the issuer's ability to pay principal and interest on its debt obligations. Similarly, common events that may cause credit spreads on an underlying structured security referenced in a credit derivative to fluctuate may include the occurrence and severity of collateral defaults, changes in demographic trends and their impact on the levels of credit enhancement, rating changes, changes in interest rates or prepayment speeds, or any other factor leading investors to revise expectations about the risk of the collateral or the ability of the servicer to collect payments on the underlying assets sufficient to pay principal and interest. The fair value of credit derivative contracts also reflects the change in the Company's own credit cost, based on the price to purchase credit protection on AGC. For discussion of the Company's fair value methodology for credit derivatives, see Note 7 to the Consolidated Financial Statements in Item 8.
If the derivative is held to maturity and no credit loss is incurred, any gains or losses previously reported would be offset by corresponding gains or losses at maturity. Due to the complexity of fair value accounting and the application of GAAP requirements, future amendments or interpretations of relevant accounting standards may cause the Company to modify its accounting methodology in a manner which may have an adverse impact on its financial results.