Power Integrations fires chief financial officer [AP]
Not to worry Power Integrations investors, Bill Roeschlein’s firing “was not related to financial statements or regulatory issues,” according to the company. However, he is currently the “subject of a felony domestic assault criminal complaint filed in Missouri,” which he denies and naturally he will “defend himself vigorously.” Unfortunately, that might cut into the job search.
Spain joins euro zone austerity bandwagon [Reuters]
Spain has agreed to “sweeping austerity measures,” cutting civil service pay 5% and freezing it for 2011. The country will also cut approximately 13,000 public sector jobs.
Minority Owner Sues Cuban, Calls Mavericks ‘Insolvent’ [NYT]
Ross Perot, Jr. is suing SEC target Mark Cuban, accusing him of turning the Dallas Mavericks into a financial catastrophe. The Times reports, “Perot is seeking damages, the naming of a receiver to take over the team and the appointment of a forensic accountant to investigate its finances. Perot said that Cuban’s actions had diminished the value of his investment in the team and violated his and other minority owners’ rights.”
Cuban, as you might expect, isn’t impressed with Charts Boy, Jr.’s loserness. He wrote in an email to the Dallas Morning News, “There is no risk of insolvency. Everyone always has been and will be paid on time. Being in business with Ross Perot is one of the worst experiences of my business life. He could care less about Mavs fans. He could care less about winning.”
Failed Bomber’s Resume Fail [FINS]
Faisal Shazad’s resumé sucks.
Is G.M. Looking to Buy Back GMAC? [AP]
Sources say that GM is interested in buying back GMAC (now known as Ally Financial) “so they can offer more competitive lease and loan deals.” The U.S. Government currently owns 56% of GMAC and 61% of GM, who plans to announce its first quarter earnings next week.
Sen. Sherrod Brown Prods SEC/FASB to Fix Accounting Standards [The Summa]
This is Professor Albrecht’s take on Senator Brown’s amendment SA 3853 to the S. 3217: Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010. The Professor is less concerned about this particular attempt at financial accounting legislation, reasoning that the SEC and the FASB have had plenty of opportunities to fix these issues (e.g. repurchase accounting) and have passed them up.
Given the severity of the problems, and the inability of today’s standard setters to gird their loins and solve the problems, is it appropriate for Congress to pass a law directing the SEC and its standard setter to produce a desired outcome? Absolutely. Accounting standard setting is an inherently political process, as I explained in my popular essay, “Economic Consequences and the Political Nature of Accounting Standard Setting.” Because the SEC has passed on its legislative charge to establish accounting standards that adjudicate between competing economic interests, and because the private standard setters follow their own political agendas when preparing accounting standards, it behooves Congress to step in when things get too far out of whack with national priorities. Such is the case here.
In other words, s— or get off the pot, FASB and SEC. The argument is a fine one, however, if legislation of accounting has to force the FASB’s into action, where does it end? When FAS 157 was being decried as the cause of all our problems, Barney Frank called in Bob Herz, scared the living bejeesus out of him, and got the result he wanted. Is that preferable to this situation? That depends. At the very least, the Sherrod Brown method susceptible to the influences of others while the B. Frank method skips the voting and signing stuff altogether (which has proven tricky in the past).
Former H&R Block CFO gets $620,000 cash in severance [KCBJ]
Becky Shulman (no relation to the Commish, as far as we can tell) is getting $620k for walking away from H&RB along with automatic vesting of 148,725 outstanding stock options. There’s no indication that she is eligible for lifetime complimentary tax prep service.
Intuit to buy Medfusion in $91M deal [SV/SJ Business Journal]
Intuit, owner of QuickBooks, Mint.com, Quicken, etc. has now added Medfusion to its stable, expanding its SaaS holdings. The deal is scheduled to close this July, the 4th Quarter of the company’s fiscal year. CEO Brad Smith, from the press release:
“This transaction expands our software-as-a-service offerings with a solution currently used by more than 30,000 healthcare providers, the vast majority of whom are essentially small businesses. The combination of Medfusion’s industry-leading patient-provider communication solutions and Intuit’s expertise in creating innovative solutions that improve the financial lives of small businesses and consumers, will help us create new solutions that make the clinical, administrative and financial side of healthcare easier for everyone.”
EU Crafts $962 Billion Show of Force to Halt Euro Crisis [Bloomberg]
With the Euro under pressure, the European Central Bank has hatched a plan to “offer financial assistance worth as much as 750 billion euros ($962 billion) to countries under attack from speculators.” EU countries are chipping in 440 billion in loans, the EU’s budget throws in 60 billion, and 250 billion from the International Monetary Fund.
The funds will be available to those countries that experience a financial crisis similar to Greece. Portugal and Spain have debt to GDP ratios of 8.5% and 9.8% respectively, exceeding the EU’s mandated limit of 3%. package approved last week, receiving 110 billion euros “after agreeing to unprecedented austerity measures,” triggering riots in the country.
Dubai Holding Hires Debt Advisers [WSJ]
Dubai Holding Commercial Operations Group, a part of Dubai Holding (not to be confused with fellow Dubai conglomerate Dubai World) has hired PricewaterhouseCoopers to help them with a teenie debt restructuring project. DH’s debt issues come about after Dubai World is still working to restructure the $14 billion in outstanding debt that it has with its creditors after a slight panic late last year.
UPDATE: KPMG and Deloitte are getting in on the fun as well, as the Financial Times reports that they have been engaged to advise Dubai Group and Dubai International Capital, respectively.
You Complete My Audit [CFO]
Had your auditor for awhile? If you want to crack the top 100 of longest auditor-client relationship, you’d have to be putting up with the same firm for over 50 years. According to the CFO’s analysis of Audit Analytics data, the longest auditor-client relationship belongs to Deloitte and Proctor & Gamble who have been together since 1890. PricewaterhouseCoopers’ longest relationship is with Goodyear Tire & Rubber, starting in 1898; Ernst & Young with Manulife Financial, 1905; KPMG and General Electric go back to 1909.
Of the 100 companies that have stuck with their auditors the longest, 97 of those companies were with Big 4 firms:
• PricewaterhouseCoopers – 34
• E&Y – 25
• Deloitte – 24
• KPMG – 14
Straight Talk about Brutality of White Collar Crime from a Convicted Felon [White Collar Fraud]
GC friend and forensic sleuth Sam Antar recently had some a two part interview produced that from his recent speaking presentations at Stanford Law and Business Schools. Part one is below and you can see part two over at WCF.
Times Square Goes Back to Work After Bomb Scare [FINS]
FINS checked in with several companies who have locations in the Times Square area to see if things are back to normal after last weekend’s failed bombing. Most companies are officially mum on the issue including our favorite TS resident, Ernst & Young, who was quoted as to have, “reached out [to their employees] on an informal basis.”
And by “informal” apparently that means “nothing” in some cases We checked with a couple of our own sources at E&Y and we were told that they had not received any communication at all. If there’s an email floating around out there, let us know but it sounds like any reassurance of safety was passed around on a post-it note.
A.I.G. Said to Dismiss Goldman [NYT]
Back in the game AIG! Thanks for the good times GS, Citigroup and Bank of America will take it from here. All it took was a little money for AIG to realize that they were in an abusive relationship.
Time to Junk the Corporate Tax [WSJ]
Michael Boskin argues for dumping the corporate income tax in an op-ed in yesterday’s Journal, citing several reasons that it sucks big time including double taxation, “Corporate income is taxed a second time at the personal level as dividends or those capital gains attributable to reinvestment of the retained earnings of the corporation. Between the new taxes in the health reform law and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, these rates are soon set to explode.”
…And that stakeholders ultimately bear this cost, “the corporation is a legal entity; only people pay taxes. In a static economy with no international trade, the tax is likely borne by shareholders. The U.S. economy is neither static nor closed to trade, and taxes tend to be borne by the least mobile factor of production. Capital is much more mobile globally than labor, and the part of the corporate tax that is well above that of our lowest tax competitors will eventually be borne by workers.”
The Political Economy of Consumption: ‘Tis Better To Give, and Give, and Give [Tax Vox]
This sums up why America’s deficit problems and citizens personal debt problems will never be fixed:
Not to stereotype, but nations do have personalities. Italians eat. Russians drink. Americans spend. And when anything—or anyone—gets between us and our consumption, watch out.
Recessions make us grumpy in part because we can’t consume as much as we like. In the depths of the current downturn, the savings rate in the U.S. topped 5 percent. But retail sales have been rising since October, and the savings rate has fallen in half. I suspect Americans won’t really feel better until we drive our savings rate back to zero.
Accordingly, politicians have to pander to masses about “cutting taxes” and “reducing spending” when it’s very simple and popular to the do the former, while in reality it’s very difficult and unpopular to do the latter.
Audit chief welcomes debate on international regulator [Accountancy Age]
The idea of an international audit regulator is being kicked around in the EU with about as much seriousness as returning to the moon. That is, it’s absolutely something to be discussed but at this point nobody’s firing up the boosters just yet. IFRS has been proved to be, putting it lightly, a challenge but ever since the Lehman Brothers/E&Y fiasco, reform of the auditing business doesn’t seem far behind.
And while the idea is being entertained, the hurdles to an international regulator sound a little familiar:
Ian Powell, senior partner at PwC UK, said the establishment of an international regulator is “worthy of debate” but believes global consensus among nations may prove difficult.
“Most countries think their regulation is good and it is their system which should be applied – that is going to make it difficult to convince them to give up their system,” he said.
“If you talk to virtually any regulator in any country they do want to see more globalisation of regulation, but the big problem is there are certain political issues that are different in different countries.”
GMAC Said to Consider Ex-Citigroup Banker Yastine as Next CFO [Bloomberg Businessweek]
GMAC is hot on the trail for a new CFO after their last one bolted in March shortly after his TARP testimony. The ward of the state is said to be considering Barbara Yastine, who formerly was the CFO at both Credit Suisse’s and Citigroup’s investment banking groups.
FASB Defendant in Suit Alleging Antitrust Violations and Patent Misappropriation [Silicon Economics, Inc. Press Release]
Silicon Economics, Inc. is suing the FASB, alleging “antitrust violations and with willfully attempting to misappropriate patented technology,” according to the San Jose-based company’s press release.
The lawsuit concerns Silicon Economics’ EarningsPower Accounting™ (EPA™) – a patented method developed by the company to improve the accuracy, validity, and usefulness of financial statements. Silicon Economics recommended the merits of EPA to FASB in response to FASB’s request for public comment on the objectives of financial accounting (No. 1260-001, July 6, 2006). FASB claims that its website terms and conditions gave it ownership of Silicon Economics’ technology, even though such terms were not part of FASB’s invitation for public comment or otherwise disclosed to Silicon Economics.
Can Investors Rely on Overstock.com’s Reported Q1 2010 Numbers? [White Collar Fraud]
Sam Antar is skeptical (an understatement at best), that Overstock.com’s recently filed first quarter 10-Q is reliable and he starts off by citing their own words (his emphasis):
“As of March 31, 2010, we had not remediated the material weaknesses.”
Material weaknesses notwithstanding, Sam is a little con pany’s first quarter $3.72 million profit that, Sam writes, “was helped in large part by a $3.1 million reduction in its estimated allowance for returns or sales returns reserves when compared to Q1 2009.”
Furthermore, several one-time items helped the company swing from a net loss of nearly $4 million in Q1 of ’09, including nearly $2 million in extinguishment of debt and reduction in legal expenses due to a settlement. All this (and much more) gets Sam to conclude that OSTK’s Q1 earnings are “highly suspect.”
UBS Dividend in Next 2-3 Years ‘Symbolic’: CFO [CNBC]
UBS has fallen on hard times. The IRS, Bradley Birkenfeld, a Toblerone shortage and increased regulation and liquidity requirements have all made life for the Mother of Swiss Banks difficult and CFO John Ryan told CNBC that could hurt their ability to pay their usual robust dividend, “They (capital regulations) are essentially rigorous to the extent that it is unlikely we’ll be able to pay anything other than a very symbolic dividend over the next two or three years,” Cryan said.
While that is a bummer but a “symbolic” dividend is still an improvement over “we’ve recently been informed that the Internal Revenue Service and Justice Department will be demanding that we turn over the names of our U.S. clients.”
Effort to expand audits of Fed picks up steam in Senate [WaPo]
Going after the Fed makes for good political theatre (*ahem* Ron Paul) and rhetoric to fire up the torches of the populist masses. The “Audit the Fed” drum continues to be beaten by the likes of Rep. Paul (R-TX) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to much success and Sanders is quoted in the Washington Post as saying “We’re going to get a vote.” Pols want to crack open the books at the Fed to find out what the ugliest of the ugly is inside our Central Bank.
Ben Bernanke isn’t hot on the idea because letting the GAO sniff around may expose the Fed to short-term political pressures. For once AG – not a fan of the Beard per se – sides with BSB. As she said last fall:
It’s right there in the footnotes – pulling out the closest Fed annual report I’ve got (Richmond Fed 2007), both Deloitte and PwC agree that the Fed is a special case in Note 3: Significant Accounting Policies:
“Accounting principles for entities with unique powers and responsibilities of the nation’s central bank have not been formulated by accounting standard-setting bodies.”
The note goes on to explain why government securities held by the Fed are presented at amortized cost instead of GAAP’s fair value presentation because “amortized cost more appropriately reflects the Bank’s securities holdings given the System’s unique responsibility to conduct monetary policy.” Right there, you can see why auditing this thing might be a problem.
This might be one of those “careful what you wish for” scenarios.
Why We’re Going to Keep Patching the AMT—And Why It Will Cost So Much [Tax Vox]
The Alternative Minimum Tax has been a unmitigated failure in the eyes of many tax wonks. Congress has been talking reform in this area for some time and yet, the AMT remains largely unchanged, relying on temporary fixes that could eventually turn into a disaster:
Last year, about 4 million households were hit by the tax, which requires unsuspecting taxpayers to redo their returns without the benefit of many common tax deductions and personal exemptions. That would jump to 28.5 million this year, except for what’s become an annual fix to the levy, which effectively holds the number of AMT victims steady.
Here’s what happens if Washington does not continue that “temporary” adjustment. If Obama gets his wish and extends nearly all of the Bush taxes, the number of households hit by the AMT would soar to more than 53 million by the end of the decade—nearly half of all taxpayers. AMT revenues—about $33 million last year—would triple this year and reach nearly $300 billion by 2020. That is a nearly 10-fold explosion in AMT revenues.
Howard Gleckman argues that the AMT is too big of a political threat to let members of Congress let this sneak by and that the patchwork will continue but that it probably shouldn’t, “The President can assume the AMT will be patched indefinitely, but assuming won’t pay the bills. Unless he is willing to raise other taxes or cut spending to pay for this AMT fix, he’ll have to borrow more than $1 trillion to kick the can down the road for the rest of this decade.”
Galleon’s Rajaratnam Said He Was Duped in Illegal Tax Shelter [Bloomberg Businessweek]
Raj Rajaratnam, who is awaiting trial in an insider trading case set to take place this fall, claimed that he was “tricked into investing in an illegal tax shelter,” that was developed by KPMG and “tax shelter promoter” Diversified Group, according to a lawsuit from 2005.
Rajaratnam and Galleon co-founder Gary Rosenbach won a $5.8 million in an arbitrator’s judgment against Diversified Group and its president in 2009. KPMG was not mentioned in the judgment and neither Rajaratnam’s attorney nor KPMG would comment on the current r if the firm had made a payment to Raj.
Rajaratnam and Rosenbach said they were induced to invest in a shelter called “OPS,” or Option Partnership Strategy, which was developed by KPMG and Diversified as a way to generate fees for the firms.
“The OPS shelter was essentially an illegal basis-shifting scheme which — unbeknownst to plaintiffs — relied upon a disingenuous reading of the federal tax code,” his lawyers wrote in the complaint.
Prosecutors will be interested to know what Rajaratnam said under oath in his suit against KPMG to determine if any of his statements will be useful in their insider trading case.
United, Continental Agree to Combine [WSJ]
United Airlines and Continental Airlines have agreed to combine, in a stock swap valued at $3 billion.
The “merger of equals” would create the world’s largest airline that would control 21% of the total domestic capacity and be 8% larger than Delta Air Lines in terms of miles flown, serving 370 destinations. Assuming the deal does not raise any antitrust concerns and contracts for employees are approved in a timely fashion, the companies plan to complete the transaction in the 4th quarter of this year.
iPad for business – the taste test [ZDNet]
Dennis Howlett tested out an iPad and since some of you have, at the very least, wondered about it for your own professional use, here’s his take on Numbers, a spreadsheet application that he says is “gorgeous to look at” but has several drawbacks:
I found it was possible to create a confusing error formula. Ahem. That will require fixing. While Numbers has masses of functions (see illustration), there is no ability to create Pivot Tables. Those are the accountant’s stand by for reporting and the like. It’s boring but essential stuff. Without Pivot Tables, the iPad won’t get a sniff in the hands of this powerful and influential group. There is an alternative for the future. Some smart developers out there will build reporting applications that can run over the Internet. It is one of the gaping holes in the SaaS/cloud story requiring urgent attention.
Any other thoughts on iPad for accountants? Weigh in.
IIA Proposes New Standards for Internal Auditors [Compliance Week]
The Institute of Internal Auditors is requested comment on proposals for new standards that would include a requirement for internal auditors to provide audit opinions and to additional explanation of the responsibility of internal auditors for the work of contractors.
Grant Thornton closing Triad office, moving operations to Charlotte [Triad Business Journal (subscription required for full article)]
Grant Thornton finally got around to announcing the closure of its Greensboro/Triad office. We reported on the closure back in February. The firm announced that the “vast majority” of its approximately 30 employees would be moving to the firm’s offices in either Charlotte or Raleigh. The TBJ reports National Director of Communications, John Vita’s comments: “We remain committed to the Triad marketplace, however, we believe it can be best served over the long term by attracting the highest quality professionals who wish to work out of our larger offices in Charlotte and Raleigh.”
With ‘Enron,’ Financial Misdeeds Hit Broadway [DealBook]
“Enron” opened on Tuesday at the Broadhurst Theatre and is receiving mixed reviews. Given the time and subject matter, brief and inadequate descriptions of the accounting techniques involved (e.g. champagne metaphor to explain mark-to-market) were necessary and some didn’t appreciate the patronization:
At the after-party for “Enron,” the most common complaint about the play was the incessant use of metaphors and monologues to explain financial topics. It took up a large amount of time in the show and some audience members felt like they were being “talked down to.”
“I know what mark-to-market accounting is,” said one audience member who did not wish to be identified but did not work in the financial industry. “I felt like they were bashing me over the head with their juvenile explanations.”
Regardless of the “one-dimensional view of this multifaceted accounting technique” and its “lacking of dramatic depth,” “Enron” also has raptors and mice in suits. That, along with choreography using light sabers has led some to call the show “visually stimulating.” If your subject matter includes accounting rules, putting them in an acid trip seems like a good approach.
Grant Thornton to close Madison office [Business Journal of Milwaukee]
Grant Thornton is closing its Madison, WI office, consolidating those operations in Milwaukee. The firm stated “its goal is to retain as many of the Madison office’s 61 employees as possible,” and that it is “committed to assisting all employees during this transition.”
This latest move follows the Grant Thornton office closure in Greensboro, NC that occurred earlier this year.
Credit Suisse Taps Mathers as New C.F.O. [DealBook]
David Mathers is currently the COO and Head of Finance for the investment banking unit at CS. He takes over for Renato Fassbind in October.
Lehman case “backs” accounting convergence [Reuters]
Philippe Danjou, a board member at the IASB has been quoted as saying that Repo 105 would not have been allowed under IFRS, “From an IFRS perspective I would suspect that most transactions would have stayed on the balance sheet. It makes a case for convergence, it makes a case that we should not have different outcomes under different accounting standards when you have such big amounts.”
The G-20 asked the sages at both the FASB and the IASB to converge their rules by June-ish 2011 but some people don’t se c, as there are too many disparities on treatment of key issues between the two boards.
The Real Reason Behind Danny DeVito’s Crazy Eddie Movie Project Meltdown [White Collar Fraud]
Danny DeVito wants to make a movie based on the Crazy Eddie Fraud, which was perpetrated by, among others, Eddie and Sam Antar. The project has run aground primarily because of Eddie Antar’s life rights and the potential profit he would reap from the making of the movie. Danny D is disappointed by the developments and has sympathy for Eddie, discussing it in s recent Deadline New York article:
“He’s gone through tough times, and he’s not the aggressive tough guy they paint him to be,” De Vito said. “He’s in his 70s and the past has come back to bite us all in the ass. Peter [Steinfeld] and I told him we think there is a terrific story there, but we can’t do it with you involved, in any way. We’ve taken a breather, but we’re figuring out how to jump back in.
Sam Antar is not amused by this and chimed in with his side of the story:
Eddie Antar is plainly still in denial about his cowardice towards his own family and investors. There actually is a “family dynamic” that “explains Antar’s fall” as DeVito claims. However, Eddie Antar and other members of his immediate family are simply unwilling to give a truthful account of what really happened at Crazy Eddie, while Danny Devito is willing to accept Eddie Antar’s bullshit excuses for his vile behavior.
As Chipotle Sizzles, CFO Sells Stock [Barron’s]
Ten thousand shares at $144 and change will buy a bunch of burritos.
Medifast Lawsuit: Anti-SLAPP motions filed [Fraud Files Blog]
Back when we discussed forensic accounting, the aforementioned Sam Antar said that forensic accountants can look forward to “making many enemies in the course of their work and must be unhinged by the retaliation that normally follows uncovering fraud and other misconduct.”
Tracy Coenen, no stranger to this retaliation, is now fighting back against Medifast who has sued her and others for saying not so flattering things about the company:
SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. It’s basically when a big company tries to shut up a little guy with expensive litigation. In my opinion, Medifast sued me and others in an attempt to get us to stop publicly analyzing or criticizing the company and it’s multi-level marketing business model.
In filing an anti-SLAPP motion, we are essentially asking the court to rule in our favor and in favor of free speech. Consumers should have the right to discuss, analyze, and criticize companies without the fear of expensive lawsuits.
JPMorgan May Quit Tax-Refund Loans, Helping H&R Block [Bloomberg BusinessWeek]
Bloomberg reports that JP Morgan may discontinue its financing of 13,000 independent tax preparers, a move that will benefit H&R Block, according to a competitor:
“Block is the biggest winner in this,” said John Hewitt, chief executive officer of Liberty Tax Service, a privately held company in Virginia Beach, Virginia, that also may benefit…
The reason HSBC is exiting this industry, even though they’re making $100 million a year in profit from it, is because of reputation risk,” Hewitt said in an interview. “Bankers don’t like the consumer advocacy groups picketing outside their offices.”
Refund anticipation loans (RALs) are attractive to clients that need cash immediately, based on their anticipated refund. The business is controversial because the high interest rates can drive people further into debt and consumer groups oppose them vehemently.
Funding for smaller shops that offer these loans will likely lose the business altogether as large banks like JP Morgan discontinue the financing, thus driving the business to franchise tax prep shops like H&R Block, Jackson Hewitt, and Liberty.
Carl Levin To Goldman CFO: When You See ‘Sh–ty Deal’ E-mail, ‘Do You Feel Anything?’ [TPM]
Late in the proceedings of yesterday’s epic Senate subcommittee hearing (involving some of the Almighty’s finest), Goldman CFO David Viniar may have had a bit of a Freudian slip when he responded to potty-mouth Senator Carl Levin’s badgering.
Levin asked Viniar how he reacts to hearing about the email. “Do you feel anything?” Levin asked. Viniar replied: “I think that’s very unfortunate t hich got a smattering of laughter from around the room. Levin asked Viniar how he reacts to hearing about the email. “Do you feel anything?” Levin asked. Viniar replied: “I think that’s very unfortunate to have on e-mail,” which got a smattering of laughter from around the room. “On an e-mail?” Levin shot back angrily. “How about feeling that way?” Viniar started to backtrack: “I think that’s a very unfortunate thing for anyone to have said in any form.” “How about to believe that and sell that?” Levin asked. “I think that’s unfortunate as well,” Viniar responded.
That unfortunateness is in no particular order.
Brussels to scrutinise role of auditors [FT]
The EU has had it with auditors in their current form and is turning their stink eye towards the profession with a whole lot of skepticism, especially since Ernst & Young got in trouble over you-know-what.
Michel Barnier, the new EU internal market commissioner, joined the debate on Tuesday saying that the role of auditors needed closer scrutiny now that the financial turmoil of the past two years was subsiding.
“I’m convinced that it is the right time to launch a real debate at European level on the subject of audit. This conviction is reinforced by the questions recently raised in the context of the audit of the accounts of US bank Lehman Brothers,” Mr Barnier said.
The FT reports that the EU is kicking off this increased level of scrutiny by publishing a green paper this fall on the subject that will examine the way “audit firms are owned and governed…the concentration in the audit market and its implications on financial stability, the emergence of small and medium-sized practitioners, the audit of smaller companies and international standards on auditing,” and also the supervision of global audit firms.
PwC pays £427,000 damages over valuation work [Accountancy Age]
The original suit was for £35 million; that would a W for P. Dubs.
Miami accountant’s workers accused of aiding fraud [Miami Herald]
Two employees of “Miami’s go-to forensic accountant if you want to get ripped off” Lewis Freeman have been charged with conspiring with him in the embezzlement scheme that he pleaded guilty to last month.
SEC Chief Accountant Says Convergence Need Not Be Completed by June 2011 [Journal of Accountancy]
No rush on that, sayeth James Kroeker, on convergence by June 2011:
SEC Chief Accountant James Kroeker told the JofA Tuesday that he would support the boards’ cutting the number of projects due in June 2011, provided there was good rationale for a delay.
“June 30, 2011, is an arbitrary deadline and it’s not one that’s been put in place by the SEC or by our road map,” said Kroeker.
Weighing the Worth of an External Audit [Compliance Week]
Does the external audit still have value? Some people have questioned that notion. Despite that grave assessment, there are still many that believe that the external audit has value. However, most have no illusions about the challenges before the profession.
Colleen Cunningham has a post up at Compliance Week with her thoughts:
[W]e need a fundamental shift away from the rules and complex accounting standards we currently use in the United States. The move to International Financial Reporting Standards would certainly help. IFRS is based more on principles and concepts, and while some people worry that these are “lesser” standards than U.S. GAAP, I believe that we will see more transparency about choices, options, and assumptions through enhanced disclosure under IFRS…
Perhaps the audit opinion should be less boilerplate to allow the auditors to provide more information and commentary. This could add needed transparency. Unfortunately, the litigious environment in which we operate would make this a risky proposition.
We like these ideas but more information and commentary would mean…more professional judgment! Hopefully the PCAOB would be okay with that idea because the trend seems to be that auditors can’t be trusted to do their jobs.
AICPA Submits Comment Letter on IRS PTIN Proposal [Journal of Accountancy]
The AICAP submitted a letter to the IRS re: the proposed reg that would, among other things, require Preparer Tax Identification Numbers (PTIN) for tax professionals that don’t sign the returns. T
he AICPA isn’t so thrilled with this idea, and the JofA reports some of their thoughts, “(1) a successful implementation of registration and use of PTINs, along with the imposition of Circular 230 on all preparers should be sufficient to address unethical and/or incompetent tax return preparation and provide tremendous gains to tax administration in general; (2) it may cause confusion among taxpayers about the relative qualifications of tax return preparers; and (3) the additional burdens to the tax preparers and pass through of these costs to the taxpaying public should be considered.”
Director Resigns at Wellcare Health [WSJ]
Regina Herzlinger was the chair of the audit committee of WellCare Health Plans, Inc., a Tampa-based provider of Medicaid and Medicare plans, but resigned last week amid controversy around the company’s accounting practices. The Wall St. Journal reports that Ms Herzlinger said that internal audits discovered the company overbilled the Illinois Medicaid program by $1 million “and potentially overcharged states for almost $500,000 worth of maternity care.” She also stated that the company “ran afoul of Georgia’s requirements that it account for each hich it paid providers, resulting in a $610,000 fine.”
WellCare also paid an $80 million fine to the State of Florida last May for a criminal investigation “into allegations that it had defrauded Florida benefits programs for low-income adults and children” as well as $10 million to the SEC for an investigation into its accounting. At least they’re keeping some attorneys busy.
Ms Herzlinger alleges that she was not renominated to her position on the board of directors for raising questions about the accounting practices at the WellCare as well as corporate-governance issues.
The Company claims that “good corporate-governance practices require it to bring in new board members periodically to provide a fresh perspective,” so at least they’ve got that point covered. The Journal also reports that the company is pulling the materiality card, saying that the “accounting errors Ms. Herzlinger identified were relatively small and the company’s own internal controls indentified them, indicating that its processes are working well.”
Lehman Investors Add Auditor Ernst & Young to Suit Over Deals [Bloomberg]
Charlie Perkins, the Lucas van Pragg of Big 4 accounting firms, has to be getting sick of repeating himself:
“Throughout our period as the auditor of Lehman, we firmly believe our work met all applicable professional standards, applying the rules that existed at the time.”
Countrywide Investors Said to Settle Lawsuit for $600 Million [Bloomberg BusinessWeek]
KPMG is listed as one of fifty defendants in the lawsuit in California.
Companies Feeling More Pressure to Cut Iran Ties [NYT]
PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young have both cut their ties with Iran, following KPMG, the Times reports. This results in grand total of zero Big 4 firms with affiliates in Iran.
United Against Nuclear Iran (“UANI”) President Mark Wallace received letters from both PwC and E&Y:
This week, Mr. Wallace’s group received letters from both PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young assuring the group that they had cut ties with Iranian firms. PricewaterhouseCoopers wrote that the Middle East member of the company’s global network had had a “cooperating firm relationship” with Agahan & Company, an Iranian firm, but that it expired last year. Ernst & Young said it cut its ties in 2001 to the Tadvin Company, one of Iran’s largest accounting firms, even though Tadvin was still listed on its Web site this year.
Mr. Wallace called that a breakthrough because by publicly avoiding Iran, the American accounting firms that audit so many other companies send an important signal. “What it says is if it’s too risky for the Big Four accounting firms,” he said, “it should be too risky for other companies.”
Repo 105 Explained With Numbers and Detail [The Summa]
“Right now, I just don’t see what the big fuss is all about. The number differentials are just too small. Although a repugnant practice, Lehman didn’t accomplish much of anything with Repo 105 use.”
UBS to Pay $217 Million to Settle HealthSouth Case [Bloomberg BusinessWeek]
After the better part of a decade, Ernst & Young has finally settled with the bondholders of inpatient service provider HealthSouth. Bloomberg is reporting that the firm agreed to pay the Company’s bondholders $33.5 million after settling with shareholders last year for $109 million. HealthSouths’ investment bank, UBS settled with shareholders and bondholders for $117 million and $100 million respectively.
The $2.7 billion fraud resulted in guilty pleas from 15 executives, including five former CFOs but an acquittal of CEO Richard Scrushy. Scrushy managed to wind up in prison on bribery charges instead and is currently serving 6 years and 10 months. As is typical in these matters, both UBS and E&Y ponied up yet denied any wrongdoing.
GOP ramps up attacks on SEC over porn surfing [AP]
The official SEC porn report has been leaked and some interesting things that are new include:
• One guy had so much porn on his computer that he had to bring in CDs and DVDs to help expand the collection. He thought it wise to keep these at the office.
• “An accountant” was blocked from accessing sites 16,000 times yet still amassed a “collection of ‘very graphic’ material on his hard drive by using Google images to bypass the SEC’s internal filter.” He refused to ” testify in his defense” and was suspended for fourteen days.
• Seventeen employees were “at a senior level” with the highest salary reported over $222k.
Darrell Issa (R-CA) is not amused by this porn bonanza, saying, “[it is] disturbing that high-ranking officials within the SEC were spending more time looking at porn than taking action to help stave off the events that put our nation’s economy on the brink of collapse,” according to the AP. Based on this response, it wouldn’t be surprising to find Issa ensnarled in a porn scandal of his own before this year’s election.
Best accounting rules are not enough [FT]
A reader responded to the epic article published by the Financial Times, raising the notion that “one set of high quality accounting standards” will not solve the world’s problems.
Those who prepare and use accounts very often have a different perspective on accounting questions from accountants as such, whether or not they have had an accounting qualification in the past…
[T]he report on Lehman explicitly did not address the question of accounting arbitrage. This was because Lehman used an accounting rule to disguise from the markets the weaknesses in the balance sheet in a way which, as the examiner reported, was invalid even if the rule itself was completely valid in all jurisdictions.
This points to the fact that the best accounting rules possible are not enough – the financial reporting chain has other links: corporate governance, auditing and regulation.
SEC Chairman: No Heads Up on Goldman Lawsuit [WSJ]
Mary Schapiro would like everyone to know that just because they laid the smackdown on Goldman Sachs last Friday instead of, say, last year is that A) she’s still new at this job and B) the SEC does (and most certainly does not) what it wants when it wants. Even if it is an election year, the POTUS and his agenda have nothing to do with it.
“I started this job 15 months ago, in the wake of a serious financial crisis and with the view that the SEC must regulate Wall Street and vigorously enforce the securities laws. We will neither bring cases, nor refrain from bringing them, because of the political consequences. We will be governed always and only by the facts and the law.”
Lipstick on the collar [NYP]
The Post is reporting that the Lipstick Building, where Bernie Madoff had his North Pole offices is sliding ever closer to foreclosure. The report states that the Royal Bank of Canada is looking to get rid of its $210 million mortgage on 885 Third Ave.
“[T]he Lipstick Building’s problems are the direct result of having been purchased at the height of the property boom. RBC’s $210 million loan was provided as part of a complex financing structure used by Israel’s Metropolitan Real Estate Investors — led by Haim Revah and Jacob Abikzer — to pay $648.5 million for the property in 2007.”
Feds launch inquiry into Florida GOP credit-card expenses [Miami Herald]
The IRS is poking around the credit card activity by some Florida Republicans including the leading contender for its U.S. Senate, Marco Rubio. The IRS has opened a “preliminary inquiry” to determine if there is enough evidence to launch a formal investigation.
The Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times both obtained credit card statements of Mr Rubio that reportedly include, “repairs to the family minivan, grocery bills, plane tickets for his wife, and purchases from retailers ranging from a wine store near his home to Apple’s on-line store. Rubio also charged the party for dozens of meals during the annual lawmaking session in Tallahassee, even though he received taxpayer subsidies for his meals.”
Mr Rubio insists that there “absolutely nothing to this,” and that “We don’t believe it’s income,” which sounds like some famous last words prior to a full blown IRS investigation.
Conservatives and the VAT [TaxVox]
Howard Gleckman at TaxVox explains that the two main arguments that conservatives have against a Value Added Tax (“VAT”) is that 1) it will put trillions into the Treasury that liberals will spend with reckless abandon. Plus the American people would not realize that they were paying so much to the Feds and 2) that it’s “too efficient.”
Re: #1 he essentially says (and we agree) “how is this different than the current situation?” and Americans are already clueless about how much they pay in taxes:
Americans seem entirely unaware of how much they pay in income taxes. The Tax Policy Center estimates that a typical American remits less than a dime in income tax for every dollar he or she earns. Ask the next 10 people you see how much of their income they paid in taxes just a week ago and I suspect none of them will get it right.
As far as #2 is concerned, he cites the idea “tax law distorts economic decision making,” and explains that “the worst possible tax system is good because it will punish the economy to the maximum possible extent.” That is, some argue that a complex system prevents more wasteful spending (chew on that for awhile).
He concedes that it wouldn’t be a perfect system but in case you haven’t heard, our government has a revenue problem (yes, he says spending needs to be cut too) and raising income taxes is about as popular as Al Gore at an Oil Barons Ball.
PricewaterhouseCoopers Announces $500,000 in Grants to Expand Diverse Talent Pipeline [PR]
PwC will shell out $150k to Bryant University, The University of Southern California and Wake Forest University and $50k to Florida International University to help spread the good word of tax careers to minorities, “[The Universities] will use the funds for scholarships and hands-on career exploration programs for students from groups that have historically been underrepresented in the accounting field, including African-Americans/blacks, Latinos and Native-Americans.”
An Inconvenient Tax: Philadelphia Premiere! [Tax Girl]
While this looks like a moderately interesting documentary, the title is terribly unoriginal.
Lehman unsecured creditors seek probe Ernst & Young [Reuters]
The unsecured creditors of Lehman are justifiably nervous about getting anything bank in the wake of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy. The next best plan of attack, as you might of expect is poke around E&Y to see what they’ve got laying around. Of course Ernst & Young won’t just turn over “certain documents” and make “its employees and partners submit to an oral examination” so the creditors are asking the bankruptcy court to order them to do so.
Tax Court Rejects “Geithner Defense,” Says Reliance on TurboTax Does Not Excuse Taxpayer From Penalty for Errors on Tax Return [TaxProf]
Please note for any of you that will try to pull that excuse:
“Although the Court concludes the errors in petitioners’ tax preparation were made in good faith, petitioners have not established that they behaved in a manner consistent with that of a prudent person. Before the trial petitioners stipulated that they did not consult a tax professional or visit the IRS’ Web site for instructions on filing the Schedule C.
We do not accept petitioners’ misuse of TurboTax, even if unintentional or accidental, as a defense to the penalties on the basis of the facts presented.”
Contenders shape up to replace John Connolly – Deloitte’s big hitter [Times Online]
The head spot for Deloitte in the UK will be up for grabs next year as John Connolly will step down after ten years at the helm. The Times Online reports that even though two candidates have been identified by sources, no campaigning will be allowed, “Mr Connolly conceded that the issue of succession was “in the air” but said that the firm wanted to avoid open competition between potential successors. “We don’t allow people to go around the country calling meetings and giving presentations about why they will be a great leader,” he said.”
National survey finds employee wages and bonuses to remain stagnant over next six months [GT Press Release]
All the excitement (or lack thereof) amongst the Big 4 about raises this year will, at least for the next six month, will be rare compared to other companies. Grant Thornton’s survey of CFOs revealed that 53% don’t expect any salary changes in the next six months while 32% plan for decreases. That leaves a whopping 15% of those left in the survey that are planning wage and bonus increases over the next six months.
Poll: 4 out of 5 Americans don’t trust Washington [AP]
So if you’re interested in running for office, this may be the year to do it.
PwC’s Administration of Lehman Translates to $24,000 Per Hour! [The Big Four Blog]
Naturally in most situations, there are winners and there are losers. While Ernst & Young is looking like a giant loser in the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, the whole thing seems to have worked out well for PricewaterhouseCoopers.
TBFB reports that, as the administrator for the UK piece of Lehman, the firm has gained control of over $48 billion in assets. Costs associated with these services (in the 18 months since the bankruptcy) are 0.65% of the assets recovered. A quick punch of your 10-key reveals that this is around $312 million or $24,000/hour.
Deloitte’s Paul Pacter Appointed to IASB [Web CPA]
Paul “Financial Reporting Encyclopedia” Pacter will resign his part-time position at Deloitte to take a seat on the IASB. Since 2000, he has been on Deloitte’s IFRS leadership team and has worked as the Director for small and medium sized entities for the IASB.
Sir David Tweedie said in a statement that “Paul is a walking encyclopedia on global financial reporting. He served as the determined leader of the development of the IFRS for SMEs, is an expert in both IFRS and U.S. GAAP, and in his spare time has run one of the most popular financial reporting Web sites on the Internet. He will bring a global perspective and immense energy to the board.”
Nearly $60 million accounting error means state budget cut [Charleston Business Journal]
Relative to other states that shall remain nameless, South Carolina’s problems aren’t really a BFD but somehow $60 million being “erroneously…counted as part of the state’s general fund,” as opposed to being earmarked for specific appropriations is still not good.
As a result of this little booboo, $60 million in budget cuts must be found with less than three months until the end of the state’s fiscal year. Such a short time frame could presumably lead to some desperate slash and burn methods. And here we thought the subversive organization legislation would have been a huge revenue stream for the Palmetto State.
Is There a Pulse in the CFO Market? [CFO]
Apparently the CFO job market is no longer ‘totally dead’ as it was from December 2008 to October 2009 and since some are feeling ‘overworked and under appreciated’ (just like you!) there promises to be a bit of a CFO exodus.
Happy Tax Day! It was a breeze right? Hopefully you tax pros have wrapped everything up and the extensions are out the door so you can enjoy a relatively easy day. And if you’re in DC, don’t forget to get yourself a Blizzard.
Why we cheat on our taxes [MSNBC]
Sorry rich folks but it’s mostly your fault that people cheat on their taxes. Yes, that’s right. Once again, the wealthy need to explain themselves with their richy rich ways. Never mind that the complexity of the Internal Revenue Code that encourages the 1040 malfeasance, it’s the perception that the wealthy are all cheating on their taxes (that’s how they got rich after all) so the little guy needs to do whatever it takes to get his.
While the country’s federal tax code is considered progressive, some people feel that it grants the wealthy many loopholes — something that further perpetuates the resentment among those who believe the tax burden can sometimes fall unjustly on those who are least able to afford it.
“Many wealthy people earn income, such as capital gains, that is taxed at lower levels than regular income,” Callahan said. “So, in some cases, a wealthy guy sitting by his pool, living off his stock portfolio is paying a lower tax rate than the guy cleaning his pool. Tax evasion scams by the wealthy are so often revealed, and so there’s the perception that the rich cheat heavily on their taxes. There’s truth to that perception, which is what keeps it alive.”
While the attempt at the psychology behind cheating is a worthy exercise, the facts remain that the wealthy are paying more than their fair share of taxes. Or just ask them, they’ll tell you.
Something to Like about Sarbox [CFO Blog]
Forget Section 404. A less debatable benefit from SOx is Section 403 which “shortened the time between when officers and directors make a change in their stock holdings and when they report it through a Form 4 filing, from within 10 days at the end of the calendar month to just 2 business days.”
Harvard Professor Francois Brochet reviewed more than 50,000 filings from 1997 to 2006 and argues that, not only does Section 403 allow investors to react to insider trades more quickly (which prevents bigger drops in stock prices on suspected bad news, he argues), it allows smaller companies to trumpet their company’s prowess even if they’re not widely covered by analysts. Oh, and the cost is virtually nil compared to 404 compliance.
A recent survey of CFOs indicates that most companies are in no rush to hire and with layoffs coming and/or your post-busy season burn out raging, you’re probably weighing your options. FINS reports that “Roughly three-quarters of the country’s 44,000 tax businesses are one-person shops, according to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). And almost half of tax accountants work in companies with fewer than 10 employees,” so there’s plenty of people already on their own. Plus, there’s no sign of the tax code getting any simpler, so more and more taxpayers will be needing a professional to help them.
Bank of America Names an Outsider as CFO [WSJ]
Charles Noski will be the new Bank of America CFO, effective May 11th. He most recently was the CFO at Northrup Grumman, which he left in 2005 and prior to that held the same position at AT&T. He has also served as a advisor to Blackstone Group and is currently a director at Morgan Stanley and Microsoft. It is reported that he will give up his director seat at competitor Morgan Stanley. Noski began his career at Haskins & Sells (now Deloitte) for seventeen years and was a partner.
This ends BofA’s quest to land a CFO after former finance bigwig Joe Price moved into a new role under new CEO Brain Moynihan back in January.
IASB says “no guarantee” of full US accounting convergence [Accountancy Age]
The FASB and IASB, try as they might, have announced that they simply cannot guarantee that they will pull off 100% unadulterated convergence. The two boards have struggled to get their cerebral minds together on a number of “important technical issues” and are holding out for the possibility that they may not resolve any of their remaining differences.
The two boards issued a statement which warned, “Although our recent experiences with joint meetings show that we have been able to resolve differences on several projects, there is no guarantee we will be able to resolve all, or any, of our differences on this project.” The two cite “different imperatives that pushed our development timetables out of alignment,” in the struggle for converging the two sets of rules. While the FASB and IASB are warning that accounting rule convergence may be impossible, the statement indicates that the two still aim to finalize their work by the mid-2011 deadline.
Medical pot users to pay sales tax [Bangor Daily News via Tax Policy Blog]
The Pine Tree State will taxing its medical green that is sold at state-sanctioned dispensaries. The Maine Revenue Service had argued that since marijuana is currently issued for medicinal purposes, that the it should be treated as a prescription drug and thus, not taxed. However, since a prescription isn’t necessary to obtain medical marijuana, Maine lawmakers disagreed and ultimately decided to administer a levy on the sale of state-issued grass.
Lehman Channeled Risks Through ‘Alter Ego’ Firm [NYT]
That alter-ego firm is Hudson Capital and the Times reports that while HC “appeared to be an independent business, it was deeply entwined with Lehman,” citing a Board of Directors controlled by the bank, Lehman’s 25% ownership, and many former LEH employees working at HC. Hudson reportedly provided LEH with financing “while preventing ‘headline risk’,” but the relationship was designed specifically to maximize the utility of Hudson “without jeopardizing the off-balance sheet accounting treatment,” according to memo cited by the Times.
Deloitte To Spend More Money In China For Business Expansion [Dow Jones]
Deloitte is investing $100 million in China over the next three to five years, hiring 1,000 to 2,000 new employees per year, per Global CEO Jim Quigley and Deloitte China CEO Christopher Lu. This follows a five-year, $150 million investment by the firm announced in 2004.
Quigely told Dow Jones, “When I have made my investment decisions as the CEO of Deloitte, the market where we are investing the most is in China. We’ve now expanded. So another $100 million is coming this direction as we continue to want to grow our business here, and take advantage of the opportunities available to serve China companies and to serve companies outside of China who want to invest here.”
66% Say America Is Overtaxed [Rasmussen via TaxProf]
If you needed a poll that shows that Americans hate taxes in order to convince you, Rasumussen is all over it. 66% of people surveyed believe Amecians are overtaxed, as opposed to 25% who disagree. The issue is severely divided politically with 81% of Republicans believing they are overtaxed as opposed to Democrats who were split on the issue. 73% of those surveyed that did not affiliate with either party believe they are overtaxed while 96% of the Tea Party movement believe they are overtaxed.
• IRS audits fewer corporate taxpayers: critic [Reuters]
According to a Syracuse University research group, Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (“TRAC”), the IRS is doing fewer audits of large corporations, using the Service’s own data to report its conclusions. TRAC looked at “number of hours spent on cases that had been closed in any given year,” saying the the IRS has cut the audit hours of companies with $250 million+ in assets by a third.
Accounting News Roundup: Charlie Rangel Has a Primary Challenger; Does Your Salary Define You?; PCAOB Wants Auditors to Consider Big Weird Transactions | 04.08.10
• Rangel Challenged by a Historic Foe [WSJ]
Someone finally realized that Charlie Rangel’s constituents in New York’s 15th District have maybe had enough of Chuck and his “pay taxes as I wrote them, not as I pay them” ways. Rangs will be challenged in the primary by New York State Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV, according to the Journal. Not only does Mr Powell have an upper hand in the ad campaign department but there’s a bit of history here.
Powell Number III, sire of IV, was defeated by ChaRang back in 1970 amid his own ethical trubs. ACP 4th Edition insisted to that this had nothing to do with sweet, sweet revenge, “It has nothing to do with revenge or anything like that. Anyone with that record in public service would be interested in higher office.”
It won’t be easy for ACP4 however. He was flicked away by Rangs in a primary challenge back in 1994 and was recently convicted of “driving while impaired,” which actually seems worse than hogging rent-controlled apartments, since that could result in, you know, someone getting killed.
• My Paycheck, My Self? [FINS]
Does your salary define you as a human being? Or, at the very least, does it feel that way? Master pay czar Ken Feinberg had to snoop around some people that pull down some hefty scratch and he found out that the human psyche can easily be affected by their pay stub.
• PCAOB Issues Staff Audit Practice Alert on Auditor Considerations of Significant Unusual Transactions [PCAOB]
Don’t worry about the plain old vanilla transactions auditors, the PCAOB needs you to be on the lookout for significant unusual transactions. What that entails, we don’t really know but we’ll assume that means any transaction, and the PCAOB means any transaction, that looks remotely out of the ordinary, has a funny name (that may or may not include a “105”), requires smokey-filled room approval etc., definitely give it a second look. Or a third.