Late yesterday, U.S. Bankruptcy Examiner Anton Valukus released a 2,200 page report that details the collapse of Lehman Brothers. It points the finger at Lehman execs for engaging in shady accounting that Ernst & Young knew about and was comfortable with. Lehman’s Board of Directors were not informed of the questionable accounting treatment.
To put it in more technical terms: Ernst & Young is in deep shit. The lead partner on the Lehman audit team was interviewed more times than Dick Fuld for crissakes.
The accounting in question was known inside Lehman as “Repo 105.” These transactions moved billions of dollars off of Lehman’s balance sheet that were described by emails in the report as “basically window dressing” and their global financial describing them as having “no substance.” The Times reports that the treatment was so crucial to LEH that one executive, Herbert McCade, was known internally as the “balance sheet czar” and that he described in an email that the treatment was “another drug we r on.”
The really bad part for Ernst & Young is that they were okay with the “drug.” From the report, the lead partner stated that E&Y “had been aware of Lehman’s Repo 105 policy and transactions for many years.” For you wonky types, Lehman was accounting for these “Repo 105” transactions based on guidance from Statement on Financial Reporting Standard 140, Accounting for Transfers of Financial Assets and Repurchase Financing Transactions.
E&Y’s “team had a number of additional conversations with Lehman about Repo 105 over the years,” although they were not involved with drafting the policy nor did the firm provide any advisory services related to the transactions. According to the lead partner on the engagement, the firm simply “bec[a]me comfortable with the Policy for purposes of auditing financial statements.”
The problem, according to the Examiner’s report is that E&Y was okay with the treatment based on the theory:
Ernst & Young’s view, however, was not based upon an analysis of whether actual Repo 105 transactions complied with SFAS 140. Rather, Ernst & Young’s review of Lehman’s Repo 105 Accounting Policy was purely “theoretical.” In other words, Ernst & Young solely assessed Lehman’s understanding of the requirements of SFAS 140 in the abstract and as reflected in its Accounting Policy; Ernst & Young did not opine on the propriety of the transactions as a balance sheet management tool.
According to Lehman’s Global Financial Controller Martin Kelly, “Ernst & Young ‘was comfortable with the treatment under GAAP for the same reasons that Lehman was comfortable.'” Don’t you love it when things work out like that?
Ernst & Young has issued a statement that simply addresses the final audit that the firm performed: “Our last audit of the company was for the fiscal year ending Nov. 30, 2007. Our opinion indicated that Lehman’s financial statements for that year were fairly presented in accordance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), and we remain of that view.”
SO! E&Y is in a bit of a pickle. Civil suits have already been filed against both firms and more investigations will certainly be coming. If you’ve got some time over the weekend, take a flip through this beauty. We know there is accounting porn in there for some of you.
Report Details How Lehman Hid Its Woes as It Collapsed [NYT]
Examiner: Lehman Torpedoed Lehman [WSJ]
Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. Chapter 11 Proceedings Examiner’s Report [Jenner & Block]