Here's a study (via Broc Romanek) that surveyed 400 CFOs on the misrepresentation of earnings. It's remarkably unremarkable on a number of points, including that CFOs say the two biggest drivers of earnings manipulation are 1) to influence a company's stock price and 2) pressure to hit earnings targets. But also, you'll be floored to […]
Today in creative accounting news, Jonathan Weil has the absurd notion that some company would use a profitability metric with a lot of convenient adjustments to achieve a desired earnings outcome. And then try to rationalize it to analysts and investors in a press release. I'm floored. The company in question is Black Box Corp. "a […]
In a June 2, 2011 SEC filing, Groupon admitted the metric was creative to say the least. “Our use of Adjusted CSOI has limitations as an analytical tool, and you should not consider this measure in isolation or as a substitute for analysis of our results as reported under GAAP,” they said. Some of the die-hard tin foil hat anti-IFRS brigade (I count myself as one of them) might feel the same way about other “alternative,” non-GAAP accounting methods but I digress.
ACSOI did wonders for Groupon’s numbers. It turned a 2010 operating loss of $420,344,000 into a positive $60,553,000, turning Groupon’s luck in its favor to the tune of $481 million. All well and good if investors can actually rely on those statements but didn’t the very idea of ACSOI self-proclaim that it was not to be relied upon? So how the hell did it end up in Groupon’s S-1?
Hence, a furious debate — along with much internal tension — within Groupon about what to do. At first, in another S-1 amendment, the company backed away from using ACSOI as a “valuation metric.”
But that was apparently not enough for the SEC or anyone else, so Groupon’s top managers finally thought it best to rid itself of the term entirely. That will happen next week, sources said.
And, in coming weeks, sources added, the company will be filing additional financial information about both its growth and costs, which will undoubtedly also be put under a microscope by the media, investors and regulators.
Probably good for everyone involved. Things are complicated enough using metrics we all pretty much agree upon, no reason to start pulling accounting tricks out of our hats.
I don’t watch movies but coincidentally, I saw Crash and frankly it’s a miracle it made any money at all (not to mention three Academy Awards, but what do I know about movies?). That being said, L.A. Superior Court Judge Daniel Buckley has determined producer Bob Yari engaged in creative accounting, ruling that Yari did so as part of an intentional scheme to withhold money from director Paul Haggis, star Brendan Fraser and co-writer Bobby Moresco.
The plaintiffs’ suit alleged that Yari improperly withheld money owed to them for the 2005 film and while Buckley has ruled in their favor, the judge has not yet set a monetary reward for plaintiffs.
The judge was clear in his ruling (which can be read in its entirety at the Hollywood Reporter), calling out the defendants’ inability to correct blatant accounting mishaps and outright fraudulent practices:
Defendants breached the contracts with the plaintiffs by diverting funds to third parties; adopting bogus contractual interpretations; refusing to correct accounting errors in a timely manner; adopting inappropriate accounting procedures that were contrary to industry standards; and, ultimately, using all of these to avoid paying plaintiffs money due under contracts.
This isn’t the first trip to court for Yari, who was sued for $100,000 by Matt Dillon, who played a dickhead cop in the film. Dillon’s company, Matthias Productions, performed an audit in 2006 and found that executives “deliberately authorized [the production entity] to apply an incorrect formula for the calculation of [Dillon’s] contingent compensation” and therefore owed him a larger piece of the $98 million the film grossed worldwide.
According to Bloomberg, Groupon’s operating income and other accounting
trickery habits are being studied by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, part of a routine review of the site’s IPO. Nothing out of the ordinary there.
But Groupon seems pretty transparent about the unreliability of their methodology. I guess this is to say “don’t rely on this information, we’re kind of making some of these numbers up” so investors can’t say they weren’t warned.
Check out this June 2, 2011 SEC filing:
Our use of Adjusted CSOI has limitations as an analytical tool, and you should not consider this measure in isolation or as a substitute for analysis of our results as reported under GAAP. Some of these limitations are:
• Adjusted CSOI does not reflect the significant cash investments that we currently are making to acquire new subscribers;
• Adjusted CSOI does not reflect the potentially dilutive impact of issuing equity-based compensation to our management team and employees or in connection with acquisitions;
• Adjusted CSOI does not reflect any interest expense or the cash requirements necessary to service interest or principal payments on any indebtedness that we may incur;
• Adjusted CSOI does not reflect any foreign exchange gains and losses;
• Adjusted CSOI does not reflect any tax payments that we might make, which would represent a reduction in cash available to us;
• Adjusted CSOI does not reflect changes in, or cash requirements for, our working capital needs; and
• other companies, including companies in our industry, may calculate Adjusted CSOI differently or may use other financial measures to evaluate their profitability, which reduces the usefulness of it as a comparative measure.
Because of these limitations, Adjusted CSOI should not be considered as a measure of discretionary cash available to us to invest in the growth of our business. When evaluating our performance, you should consider Adjusted CSOI alongside other financial performance measures, including various cash flow metrics, net loss and our other GAAP results.
Better yet, AQPQ explains the math behind ACSOI:
Groupon acknowledges that it is losing money when profits and losses are measured in accordance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). The firm claims, however, that its profits and losses are more meaningfully measured by a metric they call Adjusted Consolidated Segment Operating Income (ACSOI).
How does this number differ from profits and losses that are measured in accordance with GAAP? ACSOI apparently includes all of the revenues, but only some of the expenses, that are recognized by GAAP. By excluding certain significant expenses, Groupon manages to convert its losses into profits.
So what is the SEC going to find? Accounting methods already confessed to by the perps? Big deal.
• Companies are making fewer accounting mistakes [USA Today]
“In another potential boost to investor confidence, the era of sloppy accounting appears to be ending,” declares USA Today. Okay but perfection is unattainable people, so until machines take over for you, keep at it. In the meantime, the results presented by Audit Analytics certainly indicate that things are going in the right direction.
We don’t want to be the party pooper here but if accounting is less sloppy, i.e. more sophisticated, doesn’t that mean that the methods for massaging the accounting are also more sophisticated? Just chew on that while you check the the findings.
The article lists three reasons for the improvement in reporting:
• There is steady and ongoing improvement. The number of companies with restatements and the number of restatements have declined in each of the past three years.
• Mistakes are getting caught sooner. Among the companies with restatements, errors covered a period of 476 days, or less than a year and a half. That’s down 7% from 2008 and well below the 716 days, or nearly two years, of problematic numbers restated in 2006.
• Restatements are less serious. Restatements reduced companies’ reported earnings by $4.6 million on average last year, down dramatically from the $7.2 million and $23.5 million hits in 2008 and 2006.
Even though it’s virtually impossible to eliminate restatements, we must admit that these are encouraging trends. Another thing to keep in mind is that accounting rules are becoming increasingly complex so it’s not like things will be on cruise control from here on out.
• Defiant Rep. Charles Rangel vows reelection bid despite uproar over alleged ethics violations [NYDN]
Ethics violations be damned! The 79-year-old announced over the weekend that he would be seeking reelection. It would be his 21st term in Congress, first winning election in 1970. Even if Rangs is able to do another victory dance, holding on to his Chairmanship of the Ways & Means will be a different matter entirely. PBO has already distanced himself from Chuck and some are saying that even Nancy Pelosi is getting creeped out a little too.
• Skilling Asks High Court for New Trial Minus ‘Tar and Feathers’ [Bloomberg BusinessWeek]
The Supreme Court will consider Jeff Skilling’s appeal today in the Enron scandal that he was convicted of four years ago. Skilling’s attorneys will argue that the trial should not have been held in Houston where it would have been “impossible” to get a fair trial.
Skilling’s appeal says the atmosphere in Houston when the trial began in January 2006 was one of hostility toward him, fed by unrelenting and “searing” media coverage. The appeal points to a Houston Chronicle column titled “Your Tar and Feathers Ready? Mine Are” and a local rap song, “Drop the S Off Skilling.”
The 12 jurors reflected that antipathy, Skilling contends. During pretrial questioning, three said they were “angry,” three said they had negative feelings toward Skilling or doubted his impartiality and one said that all CEOs were “greedy,” according to his appeal.
Skilling is currently doing far worse than tar and feathers (probably NBD in this day and age), serving a 24 year sentence in a Colorado prison. If the SCOTUS rules in his favor on the “jury-bias” issue Skilling would get a new trial which open old wounds and could create a media circus (we hope).
Not exactly shocking news but one of the mysteries of the financial crisis is how it came to be that banks ended up with r transferred to investors.
Sure, it’s well known that the assets banks removed from their balance sheets did not shift much risk to investors after all, thanks to liquidity guarantees they supplied to investors. But that even took former Citigroup vice chairman and Treasury secretary Robert Rubin by surprise, as Rubin said he didn’t know such guarantees existed until after the bank was forced to increase its capital reserves because it had to make good on them.
Now research that came out a year ago but was revised late last month helps clarify what went awry.
It turns out that a conflict between the Financial Accounting Standards Board and federal bank regulators was even more critical than I thought it was when I reported it in 2004. The conflict arose after FASB voted to require commercial banks to consolidate such vehicles after such financing arrangements caused energy trading firm Enron Corp. to fail.
I was aware that the regulators asked the FASB to delay the new accounting rule and that the board eventually provided an exemption for so-called “qualified” special purpose entities, which provided a loophole from consolidation so long as they vehicles weren’t actively managed.
But the full significance of that escaped me until I saw the research, which shows that securitization along the lines of Enron’s — guarantees that limited or even eliminated investor risk — exploded after bank regulators codified the exemption in their capital requirements. Indeed, the exemption essentially paved the way for banks to use more off-balance-sheet financing vehicles that masked their true risk.
How exactly? In late 2004, the Federal Reserve Board, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Office of Thrift Supervision decided that asset-backed commercial paper put into special purpose vehicles known as conduits would not have to be consolidated for purposes of calculating capital requirements. And the regulators decided that banks need only reserve against 10 percent of the amounts put into conduits even when they guaranteed that investors would be repaid if there were a run on the conduits. Previously, securitizations typically put investors on the hook for that risk.
The research, originally published in May 2009 but revised in late January and entitled “Securitization without Risk Transfer,” found that the amount of subprime assets securitized through such vehicles soared in the wake of the exemption, even though the liquidity guarantees extended to investors meant that little or no risk had been transferred to them.
“Regulation should either treat off-balance-sheet activities with recourse as on-balance sheet for capital requirement and accounting disclosure purposes, or, require that off-balance sheet activities do not have recourse to bank balance sheets,” the authors, Viral V. Acharya and Philipp Schnabl of New York University and Gustavo Suarez of the Federal Reserve, conclude. “The current treatment appears to be a recipe for disaster, from the standpoint of transparency as well as capital adequacy of the financial intermediation sector as a whole.”
Try to control yourselves, the SEC continues to kick some ass. The Commission has charged Terex Corporation of Westport, CT with accounting fraud:
Check out the details, after the jump
The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged Terex Corporation, a Westport, Conn.-based heavy equipment manufacturer, with accounting fraud for making material misstatements in its own financial reports to investors, as well as aiding and abetting a fraudulent accounting scheme at United Rentals, Inc. (URI), another Connecticut-based public company.
The Commission had previously charged URI executives with fraud back in September when the company paid $14 mil to settle with M. Schape and the gang. Terex is settling for $8 mil.
The complaint alleges that both companies engaged in some shady revenue recognition which enabled them to meet earnings forecasts. It also states that from 2000 to 2004, accountants at Terex couldn’t figure out some of their inter-company transactions so they just decided to RAM some journal entries in there to make it work.
We understand that. Every once in awhile it’s 1 am-ish and you’re looking at a bunch of numbers that are getting blurry and you say “F THIS“. Entry gets made. Done.
Problem is, the SEC doesn’t like that.
SEC Charges Terex Corporation With Accounting Fraud [SEC.gov]