September 22, 2021

PCAOB: The Rodney Dangerfield of Bureaucracies

pcaob.gif It’s tough being part of a bureaucracy, especially if you’re doing something as glamarous as babysitting auditors. The CIA, FBI, NSA have got it easy. You get to catch bad guys, use guns, and Hollywood makes movies about you. Aside from the warrantless wiretaps and otherwise general big brotherishness, it’s cool.
The PCAOB doesn’t get that luxury. They get to poke around auditors’ work and then tell them how much they suck at it. Not so fun for anybody. They also get to write auditing standards. Take the watchdog aspect, multiply it times infinity, and that’s about the amount fun we’re talking about for writing rules on auditing.
But now people are saying they’re too slow in writing these I-already-want-to-kill-myself boring rules? Yep:

“Given how little they’ve accomplished in the standards-setting area, they don’t get a passing grade,” says Lynn Turner, a former chief accountant for the SEC.
Turner says he and a group of investor advocates wrote to the PCAOB in 2004, asking it to improve fraud standards. But the work remains undone, he says.
Bill Gradison, the board member whose term expires in October, calls the criticism fair. “We’ve been much slower than other standards writers,” he says.
By comparison, the International Auditing and Assurance Standards Board, which sets international auditing standards, among other duties, finished revising its own standards in March. The process, which included 37 standards, took about five years

Man, now comparisons to the Europeans. They’re looking for some new blood at the PCAOB though, since Mark Olson is retiring as Chairman and another board member’s term is expiring.
But don’t you go calling them lazy! “the PCAOB is taken seriously by the auditing community and deserves credit for trying. ‘Anyone who says it isn’t is off the wall,'”
What a ringing endorsement.

COMPLIANCE WATCH: Oversight Board Sets Sluggish Pace
[WSJ]

Funny homeless guy sign

You Know That Guy Who Panhandles on Your Block? He May Be a CPA.

Anybody out there looking to help their fellow CPA, who’s down on his luck?
The Wall St. Journal is reporting that the former BDO Seidman LLP CEO, Denis Field may have to pay back a portion of $180 million that is being sought by prosecutors in the tax shelter case that involves Field and six others.
Natch, everybody has denied wrongdoing. The charges include conspiracy and tax evasion. Good luck with that.

Prosecutors Seek Ex-BDO Seidman CEO, 6 Others To Forfeit $180M
[WSJ]

BDO

Jeremy Newman Just Wants to Be Clear, We are NOT Declaring Victory Over Banco Espirito…YET

BDO_International.pngAfter throwing an all night rager last week when BDO International Global Coordination skated on the $521M verdict, Jeremy Newman, BDO Boss, wants everybody to chill.

Newman said he had always been confident that BDO International’s arms-length approach would be proved but added: ‘There is still the risk of a further appeal, as well as the appeal by the US firm.’

See? Staying cool. Not out of the woods yet. But when we beat those bastards on appeal, then we are getting down.

Newman stays cool after BDO victory
[Accountancy Age]

Scoping | 06.25.09

The SEC Is Too Lax on CEO Health Disclosure – Because someone’s personal health is everybody’s business [Business Week]
Indicted Billionaire to Appear in Court in Texas – It’s showtime: “On Thursday, the 59-year-old Texas financier was expected to have a chance to formally declare in court he is innocent of charges his international banking and financial empire was really just a Ponzi scheme.” [DealBook/NYT]

Study Ties Madoff Losses to Charity’s Board Size
– [DealBook/NYT]

Review Comments | 06.24.09

Get Ready, Folks, ‘Cause This Is The Greatest Late-To-Work Excuse You’ve Ever Heard – [The Onion]

Ex-Treasury Chief Paulson to Testify on Merrill Deal, Panel Says
– Cue that Law & Order noise [Bloomberg]

Sanford Says He Had Extramarital Affair
– Just a plain-jane affair. No hookers, no staffer’s wife. Just went to the Southern Hemisphere. Meh. [WSJ]

Judge Defers Ruling on Madoff’s Restitution
– Sentencing still on for June 29. There might be some angry people there. [DealBook]

Layoff Watch: Even Local Firms are Cutting Back

The bean counter bloodbath continues, even at local firms.
Pittsburgh area firm, Alpern Rosenthal cut a dozen staffers late last week citing “performance issues”. The firm is also requesting current employees “to take a week of unpaid vacation by the end of the year, when [they] will determine whether they institute a hiring freeze or adjust profit sharing.”

Pittsburgh-area accounting firms tighten up, cut staff as downturn lingers
[Pittsburgh Business Times]

Option A: Eat Dead Frog, Option B: Pay Legal Fees

We here at Going Concern appreciate it when people embrace their bitterness but sometimes we have to give special attention to someone that goes above and beyond the run-of-the-mill cynicism. Like this gem in an 8-K filed by Expeditors International:

When you come from a frame of reference, as we do, where $0 spent on legal expense would be the most preferred alternative, having to predict anything beyond that, by its nature, would become inherently and incredibly biased towards our own wants, desires and expectations. To us, this is somewhat akin to being asked to predict how many minutes after being force fed a dead frog we would throw-up…and the operative word is “force,” as we’d never elect to do either on our own.

Sheesh, somebody needs a hug. The rest of the excerpt, in all it’s drippy sarcastic glory is at Footnoted.org.

FASB Overseers Hope That Motley Crue-ish Tour Will Help Win Some Fans Back

Motley Crue.JPGThe Financial Accounting Foundation (“FAF”) trustees are going on a tour that will certainly rival the amount of groupie tail that Motley Crue was getting circa late 80s.
“The Financial Accounting Foundation trustees, who oversee the U.S. Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), will meet with small closed discussion groups of investors, auditors, academics and regulators in New York, Dallas, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, D.C., as well as with the FASB’s standing advisory groups.”
It’s pretty clear that the FAF has the intention of spreading their seed knowledge around the country in order to win back some cred for the FASB.

FASB overseers to seek input on new strategic plan
[Reuters via Accountancy Age]

Moody’s Calls Out the USD Haters

USD.jpgRussia and China can suck it re: the U.S. Dollar, according to Moody’s, “In the absence of a credible alternative it’s hard to see abrupt changes and that’s not even in the interest of the creditors,” Pierre Cailleteau, managing director of sovereign risk at Moody’s, said in an interview in Tokyo yesterday. The credit rating “remains solid,” he said earlier at a briefing.”
Do you like apples?

Moody’s Says World Has ‘No Credible Alternative’ to U.S. Dollar
[Bloomberg]

Scoping | 06.24.09

Antigua fires finance regulator – Not exactly the most surprising news of the day. [BBC]

Cuomo’s Money Manager Received Funds Linked to Pension Scandal
– “EnTrust Capital Inc., a hedge fund firm that’s handled New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s personal and campaign money, received state pension funds to invest from a company he has identified as paying possible illegal kickbacks.” Um, awkward. [Bloomberg]

Missing Governor Was in Argentina
– Getting some South American tail no doubt. Deadbeat Dad. [WSJ]

IASB Discusses MD&A and No One Cares

Do you spend evenings and weekends reading annual reports as opposed to doing, say, anything? We thought so. So you’re definitely familiar with the cheerleading section in those glossy marketing pieces known as “Management Discussion and Analsyis” or “MD&A”.
Well the IASB has decided that MD&A isn’t worth getting too worked up about as three board members voted “meh”, against issuing an actual proposal that would give management guidance on content. Sayeth:

Because the proposal will not result in a financial reporting standard, issuing it is not an effective use of IASB resources or those of constituents who may feel an obligation to comment, say the three board members, Robert Garnett, Prabhakar Kalavacherla, and James Leisenring.

Common sense appears to be alive and kicking at the IASB. Hoo-RAH.

International Standard Setters Have Their Say on MD&A
[CFO.com]

Grant Thornton LLP Names New CEO, Looks to Coin More Inclusive Title of ‘Global 6 Accounting Organization’

Grant-thornton-logo.JPGGrant Thornton LLP has named Stephen Chipman its new CEO, replacing Edward Nusbaum who is taking the CEO position of Grant Thornton International. The changes take place on January 1, 2010.
In a bit of robotic communications work, the two vomit-worthy statements from the CEO’s are oddly similar.
Nusbaum on June 3rd:

‘I am greatly honored and look forward to the opportunity to lead Grant Thornton International,’ said Nusbaum. ‘I will dedicate myself to continuing Grant Thornton’s tradition of strong leadership in the accounting profession and in speaking out on issues of importance. I want the Grant Thornton brand to mean principled people providing superior service to highly satisfied clients around the world’

Chipman today:

‘I look forward to leading Grant Thornton LLP,’ said Chipman. ‘I will dedicate myself to taking action on a number of fronts, including continuing Grant Thornton’s tradition of providing strong leadership to the accounting profession and speaking out on issues of importance. I will also continue our focus on providing the Grant Thornton Experience for our partners, people and clients, and expanding our global service capabilities and corporate social responsibility agenda.’

Okay, they aren’t identical but, sheesh, put some thought into it guys. These statements read like you just found out your wives were cheating on you…with each other.
Boilerplate CEO statements notwithstanding, the other interesting tidbit that was not subtly inserted in today’s press release was the usage of “Global 6 Accounting Organization” by GT.
Look GT, we see what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to sneak in this fancy little phrase that you think will catch on and it’s not working for us. You’re not in the cool kids club. You’re just not. We feel bad for you but you can’t just show up at the cool party while there’s toilet paper stuck to your shoe and expect to start high-fiving PwC and get laid by some KPMG hottie. Nice try.

Stephen Chipman named CEO of Grant Thornton LLP
[Grant Thornton Press Release]

Legg Mason to Financial Crisis: 100 Years, You.

financial-crisis2.jpgThat’s it. It’s official. Worst. Crisis. Ever. If Legg Mason is your gauge on financial crisises, that is.
And since it is such a momentous occasion, guess what this calls for…wait for it…executive bonuses!
Courtesy of footnoted.org, we learn that Chairman and CEO, Mark Fetting’s received approximately a $3M bonus for “leadership of the company during one of the worst financial crises of the last 100 years, which particularly affected financial services companies”
Footnoted goes on to give us some perspective:

Just to make sure, we did a quick check for the word crisis (or crises) at other financial services companies and didn’t come up with anything that even came close. While the word was used in several other proxies, it wasn’t used in a way to justify a bonus and there were no pronouncements about this being the “worst financial crises”.

Okay, so Legg has some melodramatic types writing their filings. But how about some chicanery?:

Equally interesting is that while the board set Fetting’s bonus at 21% of the bonus pool in June 2008, Legg Mason’s loss of $1.9 billion last year meant that there was no bonus pool. But that didn’t stop the bonus because as the comp committee writes in the proxy the net loss was due to just two items and without those two items, the company “would have had net income, and the plan would have produced a total bonus pool large enough to accommodate the annual incentive awards made. Although the terms of the plan do not explicitly provide for the exclusion of those items, the Committee considered the items to be extraordinary expense.”

Seriously, who’s going to let two measly items stop them from paying executives bonuses out of a bonus pool that didn’t really exist? This is financial wartime people, we will not be denied.

Legg Mason calls it: The worst financial crisis
[footnoted.org]

Corporate CEO’s Are Smarter Than You. It’s Got Nothing to Do with Having Insider Information

Are you a corporate executive with insider information? Do you have a six-figure mortgage and a significant other with a shopping addiction? Is it possible that you’re not buying the hyperbole about “green shoots”?
Apparently that’s the consensus out there according to the Financial Times:

Executives in charge of the largest US companies sent a signal of their concerns by selling far more shares than they bought this month, according to data based on Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

BFD, you say? To wit:

Share sales by so-called company insiders are outstripping purchases so far this month by more than 22 times. TrimTabs, the investment research company, said insiders of S&P 500 listed companies have unloaded $2.6bn in shares in June, compared with $120m in purchases.

Still not convinced? Maybe this quote from TrimTabs CEO, Charles Biderman will sway you, “The smartest players in the US stock market – the top insiders who run public companies – are not betting their own money on an economic recovery.”
Did you hear that? The smartest players aren’t betting their own money on the recovery. It’s not because they run a shitty company, no, no. It’s because they’re smarter than all of us.

Pessimistic executives cash out of shares
[FT.com]

Scoping | 06.23.09

At Least Seven Killed in Red Line Crash – “One Metro train slammed into the back of another on the Red Line at the height of the evening rush yesterday, killing at least seven people and injuring more than 70 others in the deadliest accident in Metrorail’s 33-year-history.” [Washington Post]

Conspiracy surrounds $134bn ‘bond’ find
– If the blogosphere is good for anything, it’s a conspiracy [BBC]

Experts: Apple Disclosure ‘Falls Short’
– [Business Week]

Madoff Feeders Getting Some Unwanted Attention

The SEC, feeling confident these days, has filed a complaint against Cohmad Securities Corporation and its Chairman, Chief Operating Officer, and one of the brokers, saying they “actively marketed Madoff investments while ‘knowingly or recklessly disregarding facts indicating that Madoff was operating a fraud.'”
Call us Captain Obv but that sounds like they were either dumb or in on the scam. Either way, they can’t be too psyched about it.
An additional complaint has been filed by the SEC against Stanley Chais, an investment adviser who put all of the assets he oversaw into casa de Madoff.
Irving Picard, who might have the most thankless job in America, also sued both Cohmad and Chais, because, you know, a few people want their money back. The trustee’s complaint against Cohmad spells it out:

The trustee’s lawsuit asserted that fees paid to Cohmad by Mr. Madoff were based on records showing the actual cash status of customer accounts — the amounts invested and withdrawn — without including the fictional profits shown in the statements provided to customers. When a customer’s withdrawals exceeded the cash invested, Cohmad’s employees no longer earned fees from that account — even though the customer’s statements still showed a substantial balance, according to the lawsuit.

This arrangement indicated that Cohmad and its representatives knew about the Ponzi scheme and knew that the profits investors were allegedly earning were bogus, according to the trustee’s complaint.

Good luck explaining that.

Brokerage Firm and 4 Others Sued in Madoff Case
[New York Times]

SHOCKER: Doesn’t Appear that Stanford Auditors were Doing Any Auditing

allen-stanford_1018295c.jpgLast week’s indictment of Allen Stanford has brought up the always popular question when fraud, occurs: “Who are the auditors that were asleep at the wheel of this disaster?”
Well, in this case, the auditors were a local UK two-person shop, CAS Hewlett, which must be Queen’s English for Friehling & Horowitz.
It doesn’t appear that CAS Hewlett has a website, but they’ve been doing the Stanford “audits” for at least 10 years, so obv they’re legit. PwC and KPMG both have offices on Antigua but Stanford preferred to stay with its “trusted firm”. Totally understandable.
And the best part? The founder of the firm, Charlesworth “Shelly” Hewlett died in January, approximately a month before the story broke on the Ponz de Stanford.
This all adds up to who-the-fuck-knows if audits were even occurring and for us to speculate if Shelly needed to get got because Stan knew that the poo and fan were coming together. Just sayin’.

Scoping | 06.22.09

U.S. seeks delay on calculating Madoff restitution – Sentencing will not be delayed. Whew! We’re not sure if we can wait much longer for victims’ statements [Reuters via DealBook]

Sorry America, We Still Have No Clue What To Do About ‘Too Big To Fail’
– Newspeak phrase of the day: “Tier 1 Financial Holding Companies” [Clusterstock]

All together now: ‘F is for failure’
– Hey, it’s all around. Somebody’s got to talk about it. [FT Alphaville]

UBS Closer to Getting the McCarthy Treatment

IRS_logo-thumb-150x140.jpgIf you’ve got a Swiss bank account, here’s hoping you opened it because it was convenient for your monthly skiing/Toblerone getaway.
The U.S. and Swiss governments have agreed to share more tax information in order to crack down on all the tax dodgers out there that send their money offshore. The timing of this agreement is is especially diabolical because the IRS is currently trying to get Swiss bank behemoth UBS to name names of over 50,000 American clients.
Hearings in Miami are scheduled for next month to see if the names can be released, however, the Swiss have stated that this may violate Swiss law of double-secret-no-tattling-on-clients.
Ultimately, the Swiss Federal Council and Parliament will decide if the new agreement is kosh but judging by the Obama Administration’s hard-on for closing tax loopholes, they’ll probably play ball.

U.S. and Switzerland to Share More Tax Data
[DealBook/NYT]

No Raises, Bonuses From Accounting Firms May Result in an Exodus that Moses Would be Proud of

moneybag.gifThere has been lots of gossip out there about accounting firms freezing pay and skipping bonuses this year. Not surprisingly, this has been welcomed with a resounding “fuck this” by many of you.
Tough job market and near-apocalyptic economic conditions notwithstanding, you can’t really blame people that are ready to jump ship after billing more hours than they ever have before and then are told, “Thanks for all your help this year. Oh, and we can’t even afford to give you a cost-of-living increase.”
Considering the layoff bloodbath that has occurred in the past 12 months, which includes partners, one has to wonder why the hell these firms are continuing to slash costs. Many survivors of the massacre will get over the whole “thankfully I have a job” mentality when they’re welcomed with a new low in gratitude from their employers.

Firms face struggle to keep hold of top talent
[Accountancy Age]

Face It People, Nothing Much Can Be Done About the Revolving Door

Revolving_Door2.jpgThere’s constant conspiracy theories bellyaching about certain companies getting their former big shots into public service and regulatory positions (we’re talking about you, Maxine Waters).
Well now there’s speculation about former Big 4 partners working at the IASB.
We get it, those who used to work at the big firms shouldn’t be writing the rules. So who the hell is going to do it? Shall we have the likes of Friehling & Horowitz appointed as the standard setters?
The large firms have the biggest pool to choose out of, so natch they’re going to have some of the better candidates to delve into this wonky rule-writing stuff. We’re probably lucky that there are people out there that actually want to serve on these boards, lots of Big 4 partners can barely turn on their computers.

In Case You Need Another Reason to Hate the French

french flag.jpgWalking around the PwC office in Midtown Manhattan, our blogospondent in the field happened across a couple of young ladies having the picture taken in front of the P Dubya sign out front, proudly posing as if it was their names on the building at 300 Madison.
Said blogospondent approached the young ladies and asked if they worked at the P Dub and they responded in heavily French accents, “yes”. As result of further prying, it was revealed that the ladies do work a lot during “busy times”, sometimes between 50 and 60 hours a week!
This compared to an American tax associate who we spoke to just a couple days before who, in the last fifteen days, had worked 185 hours.
Let’s recap: America – 185 hours in 15 days in the middle of June vs. France – 50-60 hours in one week during the “busy time”.
American vitriol towards the French may now ensue.

About to Get Canned? Depends on Your Response

With all the uncertainty out there, for the first time, number crunchers are walking on eggshells, because, you know, if anyone gets the hint that you’re not busy enough, before you realize it you’re turning in your badge and corporate card with $500 of still unexplained expenses on it.
Here at Going Concern, we’re looking out for you, so that’s why we’re going to lay out some indicators for you so you can tell if you are about to get axed or if you should just buckle down and call for take out because your ass isn’t going anywhere.
Here are some common responses to the awkward icebreaker that is common around most offices, “You busy these days?”:
• “Ugh, you know how it is” – You’re safe. Maybe it’s the bags under your eyes, your shirt being on inside out, or maybe you just reek of tequila because you spent the four hours prior to returning to work reliving your days at Tappa Megga Kegga. Unless you plan on going postal at the office, you’re not going anywhere.
• “Oh pretty busy” – Watch yourself and lay low. You’ve got stuff to work on but not enough to keep you at the office past 6 pm. Every once in awhile you’ll stay late and catch up on your Netflix queue in order for it to look like you’re not leaving GASP too early.
• “I’m working on a project for HR” – Dust of the resume. The only reason they’re keeping you around is to bide time until judgment day when the rest of the people are going down with you.
Rumor around the campfire is that some of the firms are billing far fewer hours than are budgeted which could spur some additional cuts so watch out for responses similar to the ones above. The bloodbath may not be over yet.

Grant Thornton and the Antichrist

al pacino_devil.jpgIt’s rather mysterious that the New York office of Grant Thornton is located at 666 Third Ave. As I’m sure our more pious readers know, the significance of the 666 is commonly known as “The Number of the Beast“. We won’t get into any more specifics than that other than to mention that it is a pretty creepy-ass looking number.
Is G to the T run by a secret group of Al Pacino-esque figures that are working against the forces of good?
Maybe not but the otherwise boring-assness of that particular lobby is def working too hard to not be noticed…