Okay then! Not exactly what you’d want to hear from a former SEC Chairman on Monday but what’s a former SEC honcho to do? Paint a rosy picture for everyone? Hell no! The man is gong to get real about this latest bank/accounting firm disaster. Barron’s ran down Harv to get his $0.02 on the whole Lehman/E&Y sitch and he he laid it out for Dick Fuld, E&Y, et al. as how to best handle this dicey situation.
Regarding the timing of a response to the report, you best explain yourselves ASAP and while you’re at it, none of that fancy-schmancy language. Everyone needs to be able to understand this:
If they want to avoid the logical consequences of the ReportÃ¢Â€Â™s conclusions-and none of those consequences are at all good for either Fuld or E&Y-they will need to come forward quickly with a very plain, easily understandable explanation of the errors or their defenses. The longer it takes them to do that, the less likelihood they will have of mitigating the publicity the ReportÃ¢Â€Â™s allegations have already received.
Consequences, you ask? How about indictments? How about no more SEC clients for E&Y? Next Andersen? Maybe! Shockingly, the SEC seems to be dragging its feet, per the usual standard operating procedure (emphasis original):
Many are wondering why there hasnÃ¢Â€Â™t been any action taken, and why the government hasnÃ¢Â€Â™t reported on the same events itself. Criminal prosecutions are possible, as are SEC civil actions. For Fuld, an SEC action could mean that he would forfeit his right to participate in the securities industry and possible disgorgement of monies he received over the years from Lehman. For E&Y, the SEC has the power to suspend their right to practice accounting, limit their ability to take on new clients, and impose remedial sanctions.
Yeah, that last part is kind of the crux. As you may recall, Andersen did not bite the dust because of the money it had to pay to Enron investors but because it’s reputation took such a bad hit that states began revoking their license even before the firm voluntarily surrendered its license to practice before the SEC. This occurred after Andersen clients started running away from the firm like a band of lepers. There’s no indication that’s what will happen to E&Y but there’s a 2,200 page report with E&Y’s name all over that says nothing flattering about the firm.
And say what you want about Harvey Pitt: bearded Bush yes-man, lawyer, whatever. As far as we can tell, he has nothing to gain by throwing out wild-ass speculation about what the possible outcomes could be.