You know you’ve had too much to drink when your eyesight goes blurry, you slur your words and you spend half a billion dollars…

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Steven Perkins, a 34 year old commodity broker, attended a company golfing weekend, had a bit too much to drink over the weekend and then took the Monday off of work.

This in itself didn’t justify being fined £72,000 earlier this week by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) and being identified as “an extreme risk to the market when drunk”.

It was what he did on the Monday evening that caused all the excitement.

After the golfing weekend, Mr. Perkins felt the need to carry on drinking and started drinking again on the Monday lunchtime. Late that night in a drunken stupor he bought 7 million barrels of oil using $520 million dollars belonging to his then employers PVM Oil Futures.

Because the purchases took place in the middle of the night other traders around the world thought that there was something major happening in the oil market and as a result the price of oil shot up by $1.50 a barrel in less than 30 minutes. Through the alcoholic haze Mr. Perkins gradually increased his bidding price each time to push the price up until at one stage he was responsible for nearly 70% of the global market volume.

He tried to gradually sell down his position in the morning but no doubt with a very dry mouth eventually admitted everything to his employer.

His drunken night time purchases resulted in PVM losing £6million, him being fined £72,000 and banned from the industry for five years. Plus of course, an almighty hangover.

Singing, dancing, puppets and Enron. Of course it makes sense…

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I had a great weekend and on Saturday was lucky enough to see the play Enron at the Noel Coward theatre.

Enron is arguably the best known corporate bankruptcy in recent years. The US energy and communications giant collapsed in 2001 owing approximately $60 billion. The collapse of Enron is well documented.  Jeffery Skilling, the CEO of Enron, was keen on mark-to-mark accounting systems which allowed notional value to be given to ideas which might pay off in the future. Billion dollar losses were disguised as profits. Skilling was sentenced to 24 years in jail for fraud and Kenneth Lay, Enron’s founder, died before sentencing.

Enron was also a major factor behind the introduction of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and also the collapse if its auditor Arthur Anderson resulting in the “Big 5” becoming the “Big 4”.

Whilst on the face of it a play about accounting fraud at a US corporation doesn’t sound the most exciting thing to watch it really was very well put together. Theatre, dancing, singing and puppets all added to the drama!

The play was great and if you do get an opportunity to see it I’d strongly recommend that you do so.

My husband is in the medical profession and he is always joking that accounting and finance is easy. Unfortunately the play was so good at explaining complex financial issues in a relatively straightforward way that he is now even more convinced that finance concepts are easy to understand!

IFRS 9 released. This is a biggie.

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On 12 November 2009, the IASB issued IFRS 9 “Financial Instruments”.  This is the first stage of a three stage project that will probably make or break the international reputation of the IASB and its deeply impressive chairman, Sir David Tweedie.

The IASB inherited IAS 32 and IAS 39 from its predecessor, the IASC.  IAS 32 and IAS 39 have been rather markedly unloved ever since their introduction.  IAS 39 in particular has been criticised for taking fairly complicated financial transactions and making them more complicated still with piecemeal rules for different types of transaction.  Although it definitely had its supporters, many people said that the perceived complexity of IAS 39 made it insufficiently understandable by most people to be much real use.

Here at ExP, we believe that IAS 39 has had a slightly unfair press over the years.  It does have its faults for sure, but it also has a decent logic at its core.  The new IFRS (which will come in three parts over the next year; the next two stages to deal with impairments and the third phase to address hedging rules) has a tough job.  Make the rules simpler and it will create loopholes that will be exploited by creative accounting.  Close every possible gap and it will result in an accounting standard that puts on weight each year with minor amendments and ends up not understandable.

The attempts at simplification are honourable.  We’ll wait to see with interest how well they work.  But well done to the IASB for keeping calm in the global financial crisis that many commentators blamed the accountancy profession for making much worse.  They were under huge pressure to make change and they appear to have done a good job in the time they had available.

Shutting the stable door

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A UK director of one of the Big 4 firms pleads guilty to false accounting and fraud, having fraudulently claimed more than £500,000 in expenses in order to finance his wife’s extravagant lifestyle!

The director told police that he had stolen the money because “he did not want her lifestyle to suffer”, being afraid that she would divorce him. Apparently his fraudulent claims were kept below £5,000, meaning that they did not require further authorisation!

A spokesman for the firm said:

“Mr Wetherall’s frauds were detected via our own internal checks and he was dismissed in 2008. A thorough internal investigation was carried out and the case was then handed over to the police.”

The firm also stated that they had changed their internal procedures to prevent such fraud being committed again.

That could be useful I guess when advising client’s on their internal control systems in relation to expense claims!

Was the audit evidence sufficient and appropriate?

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It could be very interesting to see how this one develops!

A UK accountancy group signed off the 2007 accounts of one of their audit client companies, having accepted the valuation of £11 million for one of its assets, a ruby known as “The Gem of Tanzania”.

In the previous year’s accounts, a different firm of accountants had accepted the valuation of the same stone at £300,000.

On the basis of the £11 million valuation the owner of the company, came to the rescue of another company Wrekin Construction. Wrekin Construction was subsequently put into administration earlier this year and the administrators, Ernst & Young, looked to have the ‘ruby’ valued.

It turned out instead of being the world’s most valuable ruby, it was in fact a lump of anyolite worth in the region of £100!

Bet those previous auditors are not sleeping very well right now.

Still it would make a really nice paperweight!

Thinking of Christmas already?

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Pricing is an important area of ACCA and CIMA. There are a variety of pricing methods discussed in the syllabus including customer based pricing and competition based pricing. Broadly speaking, the former is based on the amount that customers would be willing to pay for benefits whilst the latter involves setting prices based on the prices of competing products.

In the UK, the Toy Retailers Association has just released their list of the top 12 toys that they expect to be most in demand in the UK this coming Christmas.

The interesting thing about the list is that the average price of the toys is just over £26. This compares to an average price of £32 in the Christmas 2007 list. This represents a fall of nearly 20%.

Has this fall been driven by cost savings by the manufacturer on labour or material? Or maybe reductions in transport and storage costs?

My guess is that the toy manufacturers are aware of the recession and the impact on parents buying power (customer based pricing issue). They are also aware that the toy industry is an extremely competitive industry and at the moment their competitors will be offering cheaper products (competition based pricing).

Either way, I’m sure that there won’t be a lot of children debating this issue on Christmas day when they open their presents!

Do you know your cost of capital?

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The other day I was talking to a few local business owners and I asked them if they knew what their cost of capital was. I got a few blank stares.

When we discussed the issue further, people started to warm up to the idea that the cost of capital can be viewed in terms of opportunity costs:

1. One owner said his cost of capital was the interest rate on his bank loans. I suppose he was 100% debt financed and probably not planning to refinance any time soon! Good luck to him!

2. A second owner said he took out all his savings from the bank and put it into his business. Since the bank deposit rate was so low, he figured his opportunity cost was pretty low as well. He has a point, though he must realize that he has moved into a higher risk category by withdrawing his money from the bank and investing it in a start-up business.

3. Another business owner said he started his company by borrowing from his relatives. Since they haven’t asked for it back he assumes its cost is zero. But he does pay a price, I suppose: at family gatherings he gets dirty looks from his relatives and his wife gives him constant grief. He suspects that the relatives complain about him to his wife.

Since all three owners want to expand their businesses, they asked me if I could recommend new sources of finance. I thought of sending them to our P4 candidates (after the exam!).

What kind of dog are you?

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Way back in 1896 in the famous Kingston Cotton Mill Case, was Lord Justice Lopes suggesting that auditors need a dog licence?

The facts of this case were basically that an action was brought against the auditors of the company for negligence, in failing to detect a fraud which involved the management of the company wilfully overstating the value of the company’s inventory.

In finding that the auditors were not guilty of negligence, the Judge famously said the following:

“An auditor is not bound to be a detective, or … to approach his work with suspicion, or with a foregone conclusion that there is something wrong. He is a watchdog, not a bloodhound.”

The Oxford English Dictionary provides us with the following definitions:

Watchdog: ‘A dog kept to guard private property.’

Bloodhound: ‘A large hound with a very keen sense of smell, used in tracking.’

It’s a long time since 1896 and nowadays, there is perhaps more a way of thinking that auditors should be a little bit less of a sleepy old watchdog, and rather more of an active bloodhound.

Make sure that you are up to date on an auditor’s responsibility for detection of fraud.

Looking for a good bedtime read?

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Reporter Norman C. Miller won a Pulitzer Prize in 1964 for his reporting on the De Angelis story.

Tino De Angelis was the ‘brains’ behind ‘The Great Salad Oil Swindle’ (the name of the book).

This case showed quite clearly that attendance at stocktaking by an auditor, will not provide, in itself, sufficient appropriate audit evidence on which to base the audit opinion.

I have always found one of the most interesting ways of studying internal control systems and auditing procedures is by looking at reports on frauds, indicating where things have gone wrong in real life.

Last time I looked on Amazon there were some copies of one of my favourite books available, alternatively perhaps try your local library.
Happy bedtime reading!