Tag: Accounting

Legal & General Calls for End to Quarterly Reporting

Martin Lipton is a founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, specializing in mergers and acquisitions and matters affecting corporate policy and strategy. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Lipton and Sabastian V. Niles. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, and Wei Jiang (discussed on the Forum here) and The Myth that Insulating Boards Serves Long-Term Value by Lucian Bebchuk (discussed on the Forum here).

This summer, Legal & General Investment Management, a major European asset manager and global investor with over £700 billion in total assets under management, contacted the Boards of the London Stock Exchange’s 350 largest companies to support the discontinuation of company quarterly reporting, emphasizing that:

  • “[R]eporting which focuses on short-term performance is not necessarily conducive to building a sustainable business as it may steer management to focus more on short-term goals and away from future business drivers. We, therefore, support the recent regulatory change that removes the requirement for companies to disclose financial reports on a quarterly basis.”
  • “While each company is unique, we understand that providing the market with quarterly updates adds little value for companies that are operating in long-term business cycles. On the other hand, industries with shorter market cycles and companies in a highly competitive global market environment may choose to report more than twice a year.”
  • “Reducing the time spent on reporting that adds little to the business … can lead to more articulation of business strategies, market dynamics and innovation drivers, which are linked to key metrics that drive business performance and long-term shareholder value.


SEC Charges Computer Sciences Corporation & Former Executives With Accounting Fraud

Nicholas S. Goldin is a partner and Yafit Cohn is an associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP. This post is based on a Simpson Thacher publication.

On June 5, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) entered into settled administrative cease-and-desist proceedings with Computer Sciences Corporation (“CSC”) and some of its former executives due to the company’s alleged manipulation of financial results and concealment of problems with the company’s largest contract. [1] Among other things, CSC agreed to pay a $190 million penalty to settle the charges, and two of CSC’s former executives agreed to return a portion of their compensation to CSC pursuant to the clawback provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. The SEC also charged former CSC finance executives for ignoring accounting standards to increase reported profits.

Factual Background and SEC Findings

CSC entered into a contract with the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (“NHS”) to build and deploy an electronic patient record system. The contract had the potential to earn CSC $5.4 billion in revenue if the company satisfied the timeframes outlined in the contract. The contract also included penalties of up to $160,000 per day for missed deadlines. CSC had trouble developing the software. CSC and NHS amended the contract, NHS agreeing to waive the penalties in exchange for certainty of deployment of the electronic record system on an agreed upon date. It later became clear that CSC would not be able to meet its commitments under the amended contract either.


Audit Committees: 2015 Mid-Year Issues Update

Rick E. Hansen is Assistant Corporate Secretary and Managing Counsel, Corporate Governance, at Chevron Corporation.

Board audit committee agendas continue to evolve as companies are faced with a rapidly-changing global business landscape, the proliferation of standards and regulations, increased stakeholder scrutiny, and a heightened enforcement environment. In this post, I summarize current issues of interest for audit committees.

The Audit Committee And Oversight

During her remarks at the Stanford Directors’ College in June 2014, SEC Chair Mary Jo White observed that “audit committees, in particular, have an extraordinarily important role in creating a culture of compliance through their oversight of financial reporting.” [1] Since then, various Commissioners of the SEC and its Staff have reinforced this message by reminding companies of the audit committee’s duties under federal securities laws to:

  • oversee the quality and integrity of the company’s financial reporting process, including the company’s relationship with the outside auditor;
  • oversee the company’s confidential and anonymous whistleblower complaint policies and procedures relating to accounting and auditing matters; and
  • report annually to stockholders on the performance of these duties.


CFO Narcissism and Financial Reporting Quality

Sean Wang is Assistant Professor of Accounting at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This post is based on an article by Professor Wang, Mark Lang, Professor of Accounting at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Chad Ham and Nicholas Seybert, both of the Department of Accounting & Information Assurance at the University of Maryland.

In Kurt Eichenwald’s Conspiracy of Fools, the author details the collapse of the Enron empire and places the majority of the blame on their CFO, Andrew Fastow. Fastow is credited with being responsible for engineering the special purpose entities, which hid the majority of Enron’s debt from their balance sheets. The excess leverage created risks that were opaque to Enron’s shareholders, and were largely responsible for Enron’s bankruptcy. Eichenwald’s interviews with Fastow’s colleagues portrayed him as a narcissist who would do anything for his own self-interest at the expense of the welfare of those around him.

In our paper, CFO Narcissism and Financial Reporting Quality, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we examine whether CFO narcissism can impact financial reporting outcomes. We focus on CFOs because of their primary role in financial reporting decisions. We conjecture that the traits of narcissism, which include exploitativeness, the domination of group decisions, a sense of self-entitlement, inflated self-perceptions, and a constant need for recognition, will result in narcissistic CFOs being more willing to exploit power and information asymmetry to engage in misreporting.


Foreign Institutional Ownership and the Global Convergence of Financial Reporting

Vivian Fang is an Assistant Professor of Accounting at the University of Minnesota. This post based on an article by Professor Fang, Mark Maffett, Assistant Professor of Accounting at the University of Chicago, and Bohui Zhang, Associate Professor at the School of Banking and Finance, University of New South Wales.

In our recent paper, Foreign Institutional Ownership and the Global Convergence of Financial Reporting Practices, forthcoming in the Journal of Accounting Research, we examine the role of foreign institutional investors in the global convergence of financial reporting practices. Regulators frequently espouse comparability as a desirable characteristic of financial reporting to facilitate investment decision-making and allocation of capital. Over the past 15 years, significant regulatory effort has gone into promoting comparability, the most prominent example of which is the International Accounting Standards Board’s (IASB) push for global adoption of International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). However, recent research (e.g., Daske, Hail, Leuz, and Verdi [2008], Christensen, Hail, and Leuz [2013]) shows that mandating the use of a common set of accounting standards alone is unlikely to achieve financial reporting convergence.


Fixing Public Sector Finances: The Accounting and Reporting Lever

Holger Spamann is an assistant professor at Harvard Law School. This post is based on the article Fixing Public Sector Finances: The Accounting and Reporting Lever recently published in the UCLA Law Review and co-authored by Professor Spamann and James Naughton of Kellogg School of Management.

Detroit’s bankruptcy highlighted the precarious financial situation of many states, cities, and other localities (collectively referred to as municipalities). In an article just published in the UCLA Law Review, we argue that part of the blame for this situation lies with the outdated and ineffective financial reporting regime for public entities and that fixing this regime is a necessary first step toward fiscal recovery. We provide concrete examples of advisable changes in accounting rules and advocate for institutional changes, particularly involvement of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).


SEC Enforcement Developments in 2014, and a Look Forward

The following post comes to us from Bill McLucas, partner and chair of the securities department at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, and is based on a WilmerHale publication by Mr. McLucas; the complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

As we noted last year in our memorandum focused on 2013 developments, Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White has called for the SEC to be more aggressive in its enforcement program. By all accounts, the Enforcement Division has responded to that call. The past year saw the SEC continue the trend, started under Enforcement Director Robert Khuzami in 2009, of transforming the SEC’s civil enforcement arm into an aggressive law enforcement agency modeled on a federal prosecutor’s office. This should not come as a surprise since both Andrew Ceresney, the current Director, and George Cannellos, Ceresney’s Co-Director for a brief period of time, like Khuzami, spent many years as federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. And the Commission itself is now led for the first time by a former federal prosecutor, Mary Jo White, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 1993 to 2002. Given the events of the past decade involving the Madoff fraud and the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis, we believe both the aggressive tone and positions the SEC has taken in recent years will continue.


Mandatory Disclosure Quality, Inside Ownership, and Cost of Capital

The following post comes to us from John Core and Rodrigo Verdi of the Accounting Group at MIT, and Luzi Hail of the Department of Accounting at the University of Pennsylvania.

Whether mandatory disclosure regulation and insider ownership affect a firm’s cost of capital is an important question in financial economics. In our paper, Mandatory Disclosure Quality, Inside Ownership, and Cost of Capital, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we examine this question on a large global sample of more than 10,000 firms across 35 countries.

Theory predict that disclosure regulation is negatively related to the cost of capital due to two separate effects: (i) an information effect in which better disclosure improves investors’ prediction of future cash flows, or (ii) a stewardship effect in which better disclosure improves managerial alignment with shareholders and therefore increases expected cash flows. The stewardship effect is not unique to disclosure, but is also present in other governance mechanisms that increase managerial alignment such as inside ownership. As a result, these alternative alignment mechanisms potentially reinforce or substitute for the stewardship effect of disclosure. We test this argument by examining whether inside ownership is negatively associated with the cost of capital and how inside ownership affects the relation between disclosure and the cost of capital.


A New Tool to Detect Financial Reporting Irregularities

The following post comes to us from Dan Amiram and Ethan Rouen, both of the Accounting Division at Columbia University, and Zahn Bozanic of the Department of Accounting and MIS at Ohio State University.

Irregularities in financial statements lead to inefficiencies in capital allocation and can become costly to investors, regulators, and potentially taxpayers if left unchecked. Finding an effective way to detect accounting irregularities has been challenging for academics and regulators. Responding to this challenge, we rely on a peculiar mathematical property known as Benford’s Law to create a summary red-flag measure to capture the likelihood that a company may be manipulating its financial statement numbers.


PCAOB Adopts New and Amended Auditing Standards

The following post comes to us from Michael Scanlon, partner in the Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance and Corporate Transactions practice groups at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, and is based on a Gibson Dunn alert by Mr. Scanlon.

On June 10, 2014, The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (“PCAOB”) adopted new and amended auditing standards that expand audit procedures required to be performed with respect to three important areas: (1) related party transactions; (2) significant unusual transactions; and (3) a company’s financial relationships and transactions with its executive officers. The standards also expand the required communications that an auditor must make to the audit committee related to these three areas. They also amend the standard governing representations that the auditor is required to periodically obtain from management.


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