I got a notification from Twitter the other day reminding me that it’s been 10 whole years since I joined. Wow, that long? I realized that I’d done it the week the economy started swirling down the drain in earnest back in 2008. Unlike my Twitter anniversary, we can argue all day over the actual […]
EY settled its litigation with the New York Attorney General today, paying $10 million to make Eric Schneiderman go away. The suit was originally brought by now-New York Governor Andrew Cuomo over four years ago. EY claims that this was the “last significant lawsuit” remaining and said, “After many years of costly litigation, we are pleased […]
Not so fast, Ernst & Young. You may be able to rebrand and spout off a bunch of feel good hooey about integrity or whatever silly phrase you're using these days but you're gonna need a bigger rug under which to sweep Lehman, guys: A New York state appeals court on Thursday revived the New […]
This is rich. Michael Rapoport reports: Ernst & Young LLP has agreed to pay $99 million to settle investor class-action allegations that it turned a blind eye when its audit client Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. misled investors before the investment bank's 2008 collapse. The investors and Ernst "have reached an agreement in principle" to settle the […]
This week, lots of people are talking about the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy because five years is half of a decade and, well, it was the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history so that counts for something. Yesterday, we linked to the DealBook story that explains why the SEC threw in the towel and for me, it's one […]
Nice try, Schneiderman. The New York attorney general has no authority to claim $150 million in fees that Ernst & Young earned from Lehman Brothers Holdings in the years leading up to Lehman's collapse in 2008, a judge ruled on Wednesday. The state had sought the fees as part of a lawsuit against Ernst & Young […]
Bloomberg reports that an internal memo states that the crack squad looking at the Commission is wrapping up their investigation and a stern talking to is the probably the worst it'll get for Dick Fuld et al.: Under a heading reading “Activity in Last Four Weeks,” the undated document reads, “The staff has concluded its […]
Ernst & Young Global CEO Jim Turley is being recognized for his work with the National Corporate Theatre Fund (NCTF) and he wrote a blog post over at Bloomberg BusinessWeek explaining how he became such a theatre buff: “I grew up in St. Louis. From the time I’m old enough to remember, I was lucky enough […]
Welcome back to Saturday, folks. Once again, Saturday Open Thread is your opportunity to air any grievances, talk about your week, complain about failing the CPA exam, or berate Colin for the purple shirt he wore to the PCAOB open meeting on Wednesday. Let it all out, it'll help you head into Monday feeling slightly […]
E&Y worked hard ignoring whistleblowers, goat poo assets, and cowering to unqualified CFOs to earn those fees from that Titantic of an engagement, so don't you think you can waltz into court and demand they give that money back. Ernst & Young, which was sued by New York in 2010 for allegedly helping Lehman Brothers […]
I mean, you know how it is, when you lose $192 million. It’s a tough thing to forget. The Journal reports that the Garden State has renewed its lawsuit against E&Y saying “Those review reports were false, as E&Y knew or should have known that Lehman’s quarterly financial statements were not prepared in accordance with [GAAP].” When reached for comment, E&Y spokesman Charlie Perkins’s voice was barely audible on a nearly worn out tape recording, “Lehman’s demise was caused by the global financial crisis that impacted the entire financial sector, not by accounting or financial reporting issues.” Wouldn’t it be nice if Chuck had Nick DeSanto sing the statement? With a rock accompaniment? At least it would liven up this story again. [WSJ]
Because business is good at E&Y. Not PwC good or Deloitte good but good enough.
Ernst & Young today announced combined global revenues of US$22.9 billion for the financial year ended 30 June 2011, compared with US$21.3 billion in 2010, a 7.6% increase. In local currency, revenues grew 5.3%. “We have had a very strong year in each of our four geographic areas. We continue to see very positive reactions to the way we have globalized our organization over the last few years, our investments in emerging markets and the great dedication and commitment of our people,” said Jim Turley, Global Chairman and CEO of Ernst & Young.
Also, Jimbo says that E&Y is “focused on building lifelong relationships with our people. This ensures we have outstanding talent to provide our clients the best service wherever they do business.” So if your heart belongs to show business, fine. But your ass belongs to Ernst & Young.
Jonathan Weil has a column today on the train wreck that is Sino-Forest, the Chinese-Canadian timber company. In case you need caught up, there have been some questions about the company’s ability to report accurate disclosures and accounting. This led the research firm Muddy Waters to issue a not-so-flattering analysis of the company. Things like “Ponzi scheme” and “investing for the 23rd Century” don’t exactly get people jumping up and down for your company. Ask John Paulson.
Of course Sino-Forest didn’t do this all by themselves. They had credit rating agencies and auditors telling them everything was hunky dory for years and that’s Weil’s point. He reports that Fitch pulled its rating on S-F back in July and S&P finally pulled their rating this week. That just leaves Moody’s but guess who else is still hanging in there? Ernst & Young, baby! They’re still standing behind their audit opinions and showing no sign of budging. And JW is really curious to know who’s going to jump out of this tree first.
One question lingers: Which of the company’s paid opinion merchants will be the last to step aside? Will it be a credit rater? Or will it be the company’s auditor, Ernst & Young LLP in Toronto, which has yet to rescind any of its reports on Sino-Forest’s finances?
So far Ernst looks like the favorite, with only one rating company left in the hunt. Think of it as a contest between giant tortoises to see which one is slower. This time-honored ritual — of market gatekeepers waiting to blow the whistle until long after a scam has been exposed — has become so familiar, we might as well revel in the spectacle.
So these “gatekeepers” Weil speaks of – obviously this includes the Big 4. And it’s true that we’re all used to them waving their arms, screaming “DANGER!” in front of the burning heap that everyone has been aware of for ages (I didn’t say Lehman Brothers. Did you say Lehman Brothers? Who said Lehman Brothers?).
ANYWAY, E&Y should know that they have choices:
Ernst does have options, aside from bracing for the inevitable years of litigation and investigations. It could resign, explain why it is doing so and face criticism for acting too late. It could withdraw its previous audit opinions. It could insist to Sino-Forest’s directors that it be permitted to answer questions from the public about the work it has performed, as a condition of remaining onboard. Or it could hang on in silence, as it’s doing now, and watch its reputation endure more damage.
Could be that this is just another part of E&Y’s strategy. Sit tight while things play out, wait until things get really serious (i.e. bankruptcy, severe economic turmoil, civil charges, etc. etc.) and then come out swinging.
Tree Falls on Sino-Forest, Auditor Can’t Hear It [Bloomberg]
FT Alphaville found this notable quote from District Judge Lewis Kaplan’s opinion (whole thing after the jump):
The TAC alleges that Lee told E&Y in June 2008 “that Lehman moved $50 billion of inventory off its balance sheet at quarter-end through Repo 105 transactions and that these assets returned to the balance sheet about a week later.” Assuming that is so, E&Y arguably was on 308 notice by June 2008 that Lehman had used Repo 105s to portray its net leverage more favorably than its financial position warranted, a circumstance that could well have resulted in the published balance sheet for that quarter being inconsistent with GAAP’s overall requirement of fair presentation. Accordingly, the TAC adequately alleges that E&Y misrepresented in the 2Q08 that it was “not aware of any material modifications that should be made to the consolidated financial statements referred to above for them to be in conformity with U.S. generally accepted accounting principles” notwithstanding Lee’s disclosure to it.
“Lee” you may remember is Matthew Lee Lee, the Senior VP for Global Balance Sheet and Legal Entity Accounting who also said this about E&Y’s reaction to his warning on Repo 105:
They certainly didn’t support it. On the Repo 105 issue, they knew about it; they did not appear to know that the number was so large.
FASB issued Accounting Standards Update No. 2011-03 to improve the financial reporting of repurchase agreements, also called “repos,” or other transactions that govern the transfer and repurchase of financial assets. The new guidance gives companies some new parameters to consider in determining whether a transfer is in fact a sale of an asset, and therefore qualifies for sale treatment, or whether an entity has retained some control over the asset and therefore cannot claim to have sold it. [CW]
John Carney points out that Bank of America, JP Morgan and Wells Fargo have all appointed new CFOs recently that are not accountants. It harkens him back to a time when another bank made a similar change.
Of course Carney is talking Lehman Brothers and Erin Callan. Oh and Ian Lowitt too. Both served as Lehman’s CFO prior to the bankruptcy. Funny thing – Francine McKenna wrote a post about the problematic situation of having a CFO with no accounting experience three months before Lehman went bankrupt. But BofA, JPM and Wells aren’t Lehman are they? GAAP is really NBD, right? [CNBC]
If you followed last week’s “Role of the Accounting Profession in Preventing Another Financial Crisis” hearing before the Senate Banking Subcommittee on Securities, Insurance, and Investment, you may have noticed that “Ernst & Young” was never uttered by anyone on the panel, although Lehman Brothers was mentioned a number of times throughout the hearing. Anton Valukas, the bankruptcy examiner for the Lehman, was there after all and “Ernst & Young” appears in his report probably thousands of times. So why wouldn’t Ernst & Young be mentioned? This is a hearing about the accounting profession preventing, after all and Mr Valukas has stated in his report and elsewhere that “colorable claims” could be filed against E&Y. Stands to reason that perhaps the firm would come up at some point.
Also, if you followed the hearing with us on our live-blog, you definitely heard Francine McKenna and I complaining about the sorry turnout by the members of the subcommittee. The majority of questions coming from the subcommittee chairman, Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), with a few from Senators Kay Hagan (D-NC) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR). The eight GOP members were nowhere to be found. Now maybe accounting isn’t the sexiest of topics but it’s hard to argue that this wasn’t an important hearing where many questions could have been asked of an industry that witnessed excrement coming into contact with an old Century. However, after a tip from a person familiar with situation, we may have an idea why there was such a pathetic turnout:
[T]he auditing firms did not like it they were holding the hearing and E&Y really was complaining to Reed that Valukas had been invited. As a result, the Republicans agreed that none of them would attend the hearing which in fact, none did.
Gotta love spiteful absence! Obviously we had to call around on this one and Ernst & Young spokesman Charlie Perkins declined to comment. As for the Republican members of the subcommittee, we have…well, nothing else to share at this point. But we’re hopeful! It’s entirely possible that all eight GOP members had something better to do than ask questions of industry experts that had a front row seat to the financial crisis, but then again the hearing was pretty early in the morning.
UPDATE: A spokeswoman for Senator Mike Crapo, the ranking member on the subcommittee, informed us that Mr Crapo was sick last Wednesday and canceled all his appointments for that day.
Because Jonathan Weil is wondering.
He noticed that Audit Analytics found that 699 SEC-registered companies filed restatements last year which was slightly higher than ’09. This was considerably less than the 1,566 restatements in ’06 but when it came to the number of banks that had restatements, he noticed something strange:
The figures for banks, in particular, look unnaturally low. Forty-four banks restated last year, one fewer than in 2009. Even more curious, there were 133 banks that issued corrections from 2008 through 2010. That was down from 169 banks during the previous three-year period, before the financial crisis took off in earnest, which makes no sense.
Here we had the greatest banking industry meltdown since the Great Depression. Hundreds of lenders failed. And yet the number of banks correcting accounting errors declined while the collapse was unfolding. There were no restatements by the likes of IndyMac, Washington Mutual or Lehman Brothers, for example. The obvious conclusion is the government has been giving lots of banks a free pass, as have their auditors.
Honesty for Banks Is Still Such a Lonely Word [Bloomberg]
Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc (LEHMQ.PK) filed for bankruptcy on Sept. 15, 2008 and then quickly sold its prize investment banking assets to Barclays Bank (BARC.L). JPMorgan had been Lehman’s banker. The court papers, filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan on Thursday, said that Barclays and Lehman called certain Lehman assets “toxic waste” and “goat poo” and knowingly excluded them from their sale agreement.
Jim Turley has been a willing participant in this whole thing so far but were far more interested in what you guys think.
Jimbo does admit that “we are not pleased to be in the spotlight like this” but per ushe, he takes it in stride and says, “it is something that we will deal with.”
2010. What a year, amiright? It got off to a bit of a rough start after our facelift but as the year went on, things stayed interesting…most of the time. Anyway, since most of you aren’t getting Jack Squat done this week, let’s take a look back at the year that was.
1. Compensation – Shocking revelation here, we realize but – YES! – it’s true, red about most in 2010. After two years of disappointment, the Big 4 and the aspiring “Bigs” (Grant Thornton, BDO, McGladrey) all returned to merit increases and bonuses this year. PwC shot out of the gate with Ernst & Young keeping pace while KPMG remained steady but slightly behind. Deloitte, lagging behind, made a late charge with the announcement of a mid-year adjustment, which may or may not have set off a rash spreading amongst the other firms to provide bonuses throughout their fiscal year-ends. Was it a successful 2010 on the compensation front? Some say “yes,” some say “no,” but there’s little doubt about what keeps your attention.
2. PwC Email Hottiegate – Unless you were in a coma during the second week of November, you were aware of the email that listed the top 10, errr 13, new female associates that came out of PwC in Ireland. The gents who passed around the list weren’t so concerned with using work email to give the ladies the Letterman treatment and the Irish brass didn’t take too kindly to the “tradition.” This story dominated our pages for a few days and the last we knew, a total of five employees had been suspended, the women weren’t planning on lawsuits and Adrienne gave her point of view (as a member of the fairer sex).
3. Ernst & Young and Lehman Brothers – We were really expecting a slow week leading up to the Christmas holiday but because the force is strong with Andrew Cuomo, our dreams were filled with Jim Turley trying to burn us with Montecristos. It all started in March when the bankruptcy examiner’s report put E&Y right at the center of the failure of Lehman and last week we finally saw Cuomo fire the first shot.
4. PwC Makeover – Change is usually met with wailing and gnashing of teeth and the updated look rolled out by PwC in mid-September was no different. Despite the rants about color schemes and geometry, Bob Moritz assured everyone that the majority of feedback was positive and that he was happy to answer any questions about the change that didn’t relate to autumnal hues and Legos™. As is typical in these situations, the bellyaching has died down and everyone is now distracted by their new iPads.
5. Large firm vs. Small firm – An anonymous reader submitted an essay on the main differences between life in the Big 4 (and aspiring Bigs) life and that of the lives working in the smaller firms. Most have wondered what life would be like in their bizarro public accounting existence and some have actually lived it. There are pros and cons to each but life at the small firm is decidedly different.
6. An auditor’s life:
7. Layoffs – 2010 saw fewer mass layoffs than the past couple of years but that doesn’t mean there weren’t spots of cuts here and there. Most notably were the nationwide cuts at McGladrey as well as the 500 cuts made by PwC in Florida. Grant Thornton was busy slimming down its exposure in smaller markets but layoffs were not always part of the “transition” as practices were often sold or employees were giving the opportunity to transfer. And last but not least, we learned that Deloitte claimed “our bad” on their cuts from May 2009.
8. Getting in trouble on the Internet – Whether you’re trying to win a trip to Whistler for you and your bros or emailing your buddy about putting the moves on a lady, there was plenty of idiotic behavior going on across the Internets. Adrienne laid out how to not behave but humans are creatures of habit and we’re sure there’ll be more exciting idiotic behavior in the coming year.
9. PwC Houston Happy Hour – The team happy hour. Typically a festive event filled with free booze, laughs and the occasional awkward advance. The latter allegedly took form of a partner towards an associate this past summer in PwC’s Houston office that resulted in a odd pick-up line, a sloppy kiss (our vision) and then a knuckle sand. The latest we heard was there were multiple associates approached, the partner-in-question was still with the firm and that the associate(s) involved were shipped off to other engagements. So all is well in H-town. PwC never returned our calls, emails or singing telegrams on this story.
10. Accounting Career Drama – One of the most popular series on GC is the career advice that we throw out here and there. Everything from trying to quit nicely during busy season to defection amongst Big 4 firms to explaining why your fantasy football roster is constantly on your computer screen. We’re here to help you get through the purgatory that is your time on Earth so if you’ve got a problem and want advice, email us at [email protected].
Too hot for PwC; thinking about law school?; a Big 4 failure in our future?; an accounting degree isn’t a scam like, say, a law degree; articulating the dress code; Ernst & Young manager censured by the PCAOB; how to screw up the CPA exam; Joseph Stack’s (the guy who crashed the plane into the IRS building) manifesto; accounting professor de-pants.
If we missed any of your favorites, feel free to recall your fondest memories on this here site. As we head into the new year, here’s a friendly reminder of how to get in touch with us:
• Like Going Concern on Facebook and leave a message on the board. You’ll have to work hard if you want to friend us.
We couldn’t do it without all your help, so keep it up in the new year so we can have an even more eventful 2011!
Over at Bloomberg, Jonathan Weil (who has the tendency to let the dust settle before chiming in) takes Ernst & Young to task for their lack of willingness to take responsibility for the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy and digs up a bunch of old bodies in the process.
E&Y had established itself as a repeat offender long before Governor-Elect Cuomo filed his suit. In recent years we’ve seen four former E&Y partners sentenced to prison for selling illegal tax shelters, while other partners have been disciplined by the SEC for blessing fraudulent financial statements at a variety of companies, including Cendant Corp. and Bally Total Fitness Holding Corp.
In the Bally case, E&Y last year paid an $8.5 million fine, without admitting or denying the SEC’s professional-misconduct claims. The SEC also has imposed sanctions against E&Y three times since 2004 for violating its auditor-independence rules.
After that friendly reminder (which certainly makes some people wince), JW takes a look at the E&Y’s response to the suit, specifically the part where they more or less say that Cuomo is off his rocker, “There is no factual or legal basis for a claim to be brought against an auditor in this context where the accounting for the underlying transaction is in accordance with the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).”
Weil says E&Y is missing the point entirely:
That isn’t an accurate depiction of the claims Cuomo brought, though. Cuomo’s suit unambiguously took the position that Lehman violated GAAP. What’s more, it’s not credible for E&Y to say that Lehman didn’t. (An E&Y spokesman, Charles Perkins, said he “can’t comment beyond our statement.”)
In the footnotes to its audited financial statements, Lehman said it accounted for all its repurchase agreements as financings. This was false, because Lehman accounted for its Repo 105 transactions as sales, a point the Valukas report chronicled in exhaustive detail.
The question is, of course, if this all adds up to fraud on E&Y’s part. Cuomo says it does. Weil says that E&Y needs to come up with a better story. Colin Barr, on the other hand, writes that E&Y could easily turn the tables:
The Ernst & Young statement suggests the firm will argue that it can’t be prosecuted under the Martin Act because Lehman, not E&Y, was the outfit actually producing the financial reports, and because it was Lehman, not E&Y, that was peddling billions of dollars of securities just months before its implosion.
In this view, E&Y was just a gatekeeper hired to vouch for Lehman’s books, something it will claim it did well within the confines of the law. This strikes lawyers who are familiar with the law as an eminently reasonable approach, if not exactly a surefire recipe for success.
“If I were Ernst & Young, I would assert I was not a primary actor,” said Margaret Bancroft, a partner at Dechert LLP and author of a 2004 memo that explained the Martin Act soon after Spitzer began brandishing it against Wall Street. “You can say that with more than a straight face.”
“Just gatekeepers,” and not “fraudsters,” is obviously the preferred view but the catch is, E&Y would be admitting that they are really shitty gatekeepers.
This was worth the wait.
Directly from the firm’s website:
Ernst & Young’s Response to New York Attorney General’s Complaint
New York, 21 December 2010 – We intend to vigorously defend against the civil claims alleged by the New York Attorney General.
There is no factual or legal basis for a claim to be brought against an auditor in this context where the accounting for the underlying transaction is in accordance with the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). Lehman’s audited financial statements clearly portrayed Lehman as a highly leveraged entity operating in a risky and volatile industry.
Lehman’s bankruptcy occurred in the midst of a global financial crisis triggered by dramatic increases in mortgage defaults, associated losses in mortgage and real estate portfolios, and a severe tightening of liquidity. Lehman’s bankruptcy was preceded and followed by other bankruptcies, distressed mergers, restructurings, and government bailouts of all of the other major investment banks, as well as other major financial institutions. In short, Lehman’s bankruptcy was not caused by any accounting issues.
What we have here is a significant expansion of the Martin Act. Although the Martin Act is almost 90 years old, we believe this is the first time that an Attorney General is attempting to use this law to assert claims against an accounting firm, rather than the company that took the alleged actions.
We look forward to presenting the facts in a court of law.
In other words, Andy – get lost; drop dead; suck it. AM Law Daily reports that E&Y has big guns on the case:
Miles Ruthberg, a former global litigation chair at Latham & Watkins, confirmed, via an e-mail to The Am Law Daily, that he’s representing E&Y in the suit along with Latham securities litigation and professional liability cochair Jamie Wine and Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel white-collar defense and SEC regulatory cochair Barry Berke. Latham, which has previously represented E&Y, has been handling securities litigation against the accounting firm stemming from Lehman’s failure.
To mark this occasion, we present an appropriate video (BL-inspired):
Since Andrew Cuomo decided to make our lives insanely busy this week, we’ve been talking to lots of different people about what will happen next in the Ernst & Young saga. We stumbled across a couple of experts, Dr. Mark Zimbelman an Accounting Professor who specializes in fraud, forensic accounting and auditors’ detection of fraud at BYU’s Marriott School of Business, along with his son, Aaron Zimbelman, a doctoral student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign whose research interests include auditing, financial statement fraud and corporate governance.
The father and son team have a blog, Fraudbytes, that discusses, well<