Muddy Waters Director of Research, Carson Block wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal today and he sheds some light on problems that Big 4 auditors are facing in China. And from the sounds of it, if you're used to the auditing standards in the west, then you have your work cut out for […]
Focus Media Chief Financial Officer Kit Low disputed Muddy Waters’ claims on a conference call Tuesday with analysts, saying that the firm’s report misinterpreted LCD-display numbers and financial data. He said Muddy Waters concentrated largely on Focus Media’s mergers and acquisitions, but the company hasn’t made any “major acquisitions in the past three years” because it is putting more emphasis on its core business. Focus Media Chief Executive Jason Jiang criticized short-sellers in a message posted on his verified account on China’s Sina Weibo microblog service. “Why isn’t anyone suing these short sellers who are just spreading malicious rumors everywhere?” the message said. “These people should be punished according to the law!!!” [WSJ]
As you probably heard, the PCAOB officially put out a proposal earlier this week for audit partners to be named in the annual reports of public companies. It would also require “registered firms to disclose the name of the engagement partner for each audit report already require the form” and “disclosure in the audit report of other accounting firms and certain other participants that took part in the audit.”
While most Big 4 audit partners are probably feeling a little chapped by this whole proposal, there is at least one person going on record (by way of PCAOB comment letter) that feels that it doesn’t go far enough. That would be Carson Block, the CEO and founder of research firm Muddy Waters. In Block’s letter (in full on page 2) to the Board he writes that not only should the engagement partner be identified but that he or she should be putting their name on the audit opinion because “[it] will decrease investors’ future losses to fraud and gimmicky accounting by billions of dollars.”
That on it’s own is enough to get more than a few people riled up. But as we indicated, there are some conspiracy and fraud accusations as well:
Even the most reputable auditors in China seem to be in a race to the bottom. We believe that there are particularly egregious situations in which some Big Four partners in China offices have actually conspired with their clients to defraud investors. Further, it is a reasonable proposition that the conflict of interest inherent in the Chinese auditors’ business model also affects the quality of US company audits.
Now before your knickers in a twist, don’t forget that this is the guy who called Sino-Forest a “Ponzi Scheme for the 23rd Century” which more or less looks to be accurate. Further, if you consider all the trouble Big 4 firms have had with Chinese companies listed in the U.S. and elsewhere, it doesn’t seem to be that much of a stretch that some partners would just say fuck it and work with their clients to keep a lid on the shenanigans than go through the pain of actually doing their jobs.
Regardless, with these accusations the PCAOB may try to make another run at getting the Chinese to play ball.