Going concern

Is this a children’s fairy tale or an adult horror story?

Published on: 02 Nov 2011

Forget about the Eurozone crisis that is currently dominating the news and instead, here’s a nice bedtime story to tell your children…

So children, are you feeling tired and ready for your story?

Once upon a time, in a land far far away there was a man called Gordon Reece (or Mr G.Reece).

Now Mr G.Reece was enjoying himself in the sunshine when suddenly everyone in the world started feeling happy and some wealthy friends and banks offered to lend him as much money as he wanted.

Mr G.Reece shielded his eyes from the sun and shook his head in disbelief. He couldn’t believe it but he gladly accepted the loans and with all that money he decided to treat himself.

He bought some houses, cars and a new Sony Playstation.

He even employed a couple of people to help him keep his house and garden tidy.

Things were going well but suddenly people around the world started becoming unhappy and didn’t buy as many things as they used to.

Mr G.Reece suddenly realised he had spent all of the money he had borrowed and didn’t have any money left to pay the interest on the loans.

He had an idea though. He could surely just go to another bank and get a new loan so that he could pay the interest.

Alas for Mr. G.Reece the banks didn’t want to lend him any more money as they knew he couldn’t afford to pay them back.

He then had another idea. To reduce his outgoings he would get rid of one of his employees and pay the other one a lower salary.

His employees were so upset that they messed up his house and garden and told him that they would carry on messing up his house and garden until he reinstated the job and the previous salary.

He then suddenly remembered his wealthy friends that had lent him money (a Mr F.Rance and Mrs G.Ermany). He gave them a call, explained the situation and they kindly agreed to write off some of the debt he owed them and also gave him a bit of cash to help him through the next few weeks.

His interest payments were now lower which was good but he was still struggling to pay the interest and the wages of his employees.

He decided that maybe this time he should actually go and visit his wealthy friends Mr F.Rance and Mrs G.Ermany and persuade them to write off even more of the debt and maybe give him some more money.

He jumped on a plane and headed to see them. He was feeling fairly positive when he arrived to meet his wealthy friends but then his face suddenly dropped.

There, heading to see the wealthy friends were none other than Mr P.Ortugal, Mrs S.Pain and Mr I.Taly. Three of his poorer friends who were also hoping to be given some money.

The problem though is that the wealthy friends don’t have enough money to give to all of the poor friends.

So children, what can they do?

Well, it’s time to go to sleep now kids and the story will be continued another night so sleep well, sweet dreams and don’t have any nightmares…

Can I have a skinny latte, a blueberry muffin and a corporate loan please?

Published on: 05 Oct 2011

One of the real challenges facing a lot of companies at the moment is access to funds.

The economic turmoil over recent years has led to the loan markets largely drying up and without access to suitable cash reserves a number of firms have hit cashflow problems and have gone out of business.

Similarly, a lot of businesses that have wanted to start up in the recession haven’t had access to loan funds to enable them to do so.

The end result is that jobs have been lost.

The global coffee chain Starbucks though think that they may have an answer to some of the funding problems.

They have just launched a campaign to try to stimulate job growth in America by launching a “Create Jobs for the USA” initiative.

They are partnering in this initiative with Opportunity Finance Network (OFN), a group of private financial institutions that provide affordable loans to certain parts of the American population including low-income people and communities.

As well as donating $5 million to get the project off the ground Starbucks are also covering the admin expenses of OFN as well as paying for the manufacture of wristbands which will be given to any of their customers who donate $5 in one of their coffee shops.

Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz said “Small businesses are…employing more than half of all private sector workers – but this critical jobs engine has stalled. We’ve got to thaw the channels of credit so that community businesses can start hiring again.”

100% of the donations made will go to OFN to help fund loans to community businesses including small businesses, microenterprises and nonprofit organizations.

Starbucks themselves though have also been a victim of the recession with several hundred stores being closed in the US alone in recent years and some sceptics may argue that this is just a PR initiate by them.

My personal view though is that if this initiative helps to create jobs then it can only be a good thing.

Which is worse. A $3 billion fraud or taking $100 and giving it back the next day?

Published on: 09 Jul 2011

Taylor Bean & Whitaker were one of the largest privately held mortgage lenders in the US.

Paul Allen was their CEO and involved in all the key areas of the business. Unfortunately for a lot of people Mr Allen also became involved in the fraud which led to the Taylor Bean business being closed down with 2,000 people losing their jobs.

The fraud also contributed to the collapse of Colonial Bank in the States after they purchased hundreds of millions of dollars of Taylor Bean mortgages.

Two major European banks also suffered as BNP Paribas and Deutsche Bank lost nearly $2 billion as a result of buying various corporate paper from Taylor Bean which was not suitably backed up by collateral.

A $3 billion fraud with thousands of people losing their jobs. Clearly a serious crime.

The end result was that Mr Allen was jailed for just over 3 years.

Meanwhile at the other end of the spectrum in terms of crime against financial institutions and the financial amount involved, a teller at Capital One bank in the States was approached by Roy Brown who put a hand under his jacket, claimed it was a gun and demanded money.

The teller handed Mr Brown 3 piles of money but he only took one $100 bill.

Mr Brown then had a change of heart and the next day handed himself into police and told them that his mother didn’t raise him that way.

He was homeless and told police that he needed the $100 to attend a detox centre.

Despite Mr Brown’s dramatic change of heart he was subsequently sentenced to 15 years in prison for the robbery.

So in summary, $3 billion and 3 years vs. $100 and 15 years…

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Is it acceptable for a client to hold your audit files hostage?

Published on: 06 Jun 2011

It seems that Deloitte has had a spot of bother in dealing with one of its Chinese clients.

When they initially won the audit for Longtop they were no doubt very pleased.

Longtop Financial Technologies Ltd., to give it its full name, is a Hong Kong-based maker of financial software. In 2007 it raised $210 million in a US IPO underwritten by Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank.

Things haven’t been going too well recently though. Their share price has plunged by 56% since last November reducing the company’s market value by more than $1 billion.

They have also just lost their auditors as Deloitte has just resigned.

Auditor resignations aren’t that unusual but in Deloitte’s resignation letter that was submitted to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission there are a few items which to put them in non technical language, sound “extremely dodgy”.

The full resignation letter submitted to the SEC can be found here but some extracts of the letter showing the highlights (or lowlights) of some items that Deloitte identified at Longtop are as follows (note that the bold emphasis on certain words was made by us):

[Start of extract from  resignation letter]

As part of the process for auditing the Company’s financial statements for the year ended 31 March 2011, we determined that, in regard to bank confirmations, it was appropriate to perform follow up visits to certain banks. These audit steps were recently performed and identified a number of very serious defects including: statements by bank staff that their bank had no record of certain transactions; confirmation replies previously received were said to be false; significant differences in deposit balances reported by the bank staff compared with the amounts identified in previously received confirmations (and in the books and records of the Group); and significant bank borrowings reported by bank staff not identified in previously received confirmations (and not recorded in the books and records of the Group).

In the light of this, a formal second round of bank confirmation was initiated on 17 May. Within hours however, as a result of intervention by the Company’s officials including the Chief Operating Officer, the confirmation process was stopped amid serious and troubling new developments including: calls to banks by the Company asserting that Deloitte was not their auditor; seizure by the Company’s staff of second round bank confirmation documentation on bank premises; threats to stop our staff leaving the Company premises unless they allowed the Company to retain our audit files then on the premises; and then seizure by the Company of certain of our working papers.

In that connection, we must insist that you promptly return our documents.

[End of extract of resignation letter]

I have to say that my initial observations are that Deloitte did the right thing in resigning!

Longtop however have released a press release in connection with the resignation and included the statement that they have “initiated a search for a new auditor.”

Somehow I’m not convinced that the other top auditing companies will be rushing out to win Longtop as a client.

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A bank run? Don’t worry, it’s only a bit of fun…

Published on: 15 Nov 2010

It hardly seems possible that the bank run on the UK bank Northern Rock happened over 3 years ago but last week some people thought that there was a similar run on the Spanish bank BBVA.

A bank run occurs when a large number of people with deposits at a particular bank head to branches of the bank to get their money out as quick as possible.

It often follows a rumour about problems with the bank and can lead to a self fulfilling prophecy.

Large numbers of people withdraw money. This can cause liquidity problems at the bank which in turn causes more concern which leads to more people rushing to withdraw their money which leads to liquidity problems with leads to….. and so on until a vicious circle develops.

A bank makes its money from lending.

If it just keeps depositors money without using the deposits to generate revenue by for example lending to borrowers then the bank is in effect just a safe deposit box for the deposits.

In the great depression of the 1930s sudden withdrawals by panicky depositors caused liquidity problems to such an extent that a number of healthy banks were forced to close.

Nowadays, as long as the bank is solvent, any short term liquidity problems should be resolved by borrowing cash from its central bank as a “lender of last resort”.

Bank runs can still happen though and last week the queues of people outside of BBVA bank in Madrid caused rumours that resulted in the share price falling sharply.

It took a while for the markets to identify what was going on and it wasn’t so much a bank run that was causing the queues but rather a “fun run”

There was a 10km fun run sponsored by BBVA and joggers were queuing up to get their race numbers and t-shirts from the bank for the run on the Sunday.

Unfortunately rumours quickly spread around the financial markets that there were large queues outside the bank and in the jittery post financial crisis atmosphere the share price plummeted by nearly 4%.

Luckily a hour or so later the markets realised that the bank withdrawals were race t-shirts rather than cash and the share price recovered.

Finally, to test your knowledge of the financial markets there are two pictures in this blog entry. One shows a bank run whilst the other shows a fun run. Can you tell the difference…

If you go to the bank today be careful in case you Kop some abuse for being a toxic asset.

Published on: 13 Sep 2010

On Saturday Wayne Rooney the England and Manchester United footballer was dropped for the game against Everton.

According to the Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, he was dropped so that he wouldn’t have to endure excessive abuse from the Everton fans (whilst the married Mr Rooney has recently gone through a barren patch of scoring on the pitch he was reported in the press last week as having scored off the pitch with a number of prostitutes).

So, the Everton supporters didn’t have the opportunity to direct their witty chants towards Mr Rooney.

The Accountants amongst the Everton supporters though must now be looking forward to when they play their neighbours and fierce rivals, Liverpool.

Last week it was reported that Liverpool FC’s loan with the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) had been reclassified and moved to RBS’s toxic debt division. In other words the £260 million loan is now within the “bad bank” part of RBS which was created to put all their toxic assets from the recent worldwide financial crisis.

Even though RBS were reportedly getting £1million interest per week on the loan it is now considered clear that they have severe doubts over whether they will get their money back.

We blogged a couple of months ago about the going concern risk with Liverpool FC and this latest news can only add to the excitement.

One thing’s for sure though and the toxic debt division of RBS won’t be very sympathetic with Liverpool and will be looking to recover their money as soon as possible. A quick sale of the football club at a knock down price is expected.

Now, all you accountants in the Everton crowd get your singing voice ready and altogether “You’re toxic and you know you are, you’re toxic and you know you are….”

Liverpool FC: You’ll never walk alone; or You’re never a going concern?

Published on: 04 Jun 2010

Liverpool FC are in the news at the moment with their manager Rafael Benitez leaving by mutual consent last night. Liverpool are one of the most famous football clubs in the world. Last month they released their accounts for the year to 30 July 2009.

Their financial results weren’t very impressive with their accounts showing the biggest loss in their history (£55 million) as well as significant loans (£250 million).

Their auditors, KPMG, stated that Liverpool are now “dependent on short-term [bank loan] facility extensions” and “this fact indicates the existence of a material uncertainty which may cast significant doubt upon [Liverpool’s] ability to continue as a going concern”.

Most of you will know that going concern is a fundamental accounting assumption.  In the normal run of things, the financial statements make no mention of it.  Similarly, the audit opinion makes no specific mention of going concern, except in unusual circumstances.

Ignoring the specific issues involving Liverpool, going concern generally presents a tricky problem for the auditor.  If an auditor mentions going concern as a specific worry, it is likely that the company will fail.  The act of mentioning it could become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Some would argue that there’s a significant divergence between what auditors actually say and what readers hear.

Looking at the three ways of reporting on going concern under ISA 705:

Situation 1: The company appears likely to be a going concern.

What auditors say: Nothing.

What auditors mean: The company appears to be a going concern, but there are no guarantees.

What investors hear?: All is well. Invest with no fear of possible insolvency.  Go forth and be merry.

Situation 2: Additional disclosures about elevated uncertainty about going concern.

What auditors say: The financial statements give a true and fair view, but we emphasise the disclosures by the directors about the elevated going concern risk in note x…

What auditors mean: The company’s continuing existence depends on the outcome of this external event.  It could go one way or the other, but it’s impossible to say which.  Take caution.

What investors hear?: The company is in serious trouble.  Run away.  If you are a depositor in a bank, get all your money out right now before it’s too late.

This difference in what we say and what people hear means that this option is hard to use.

Situation 3: The company is not a going concern

What auditors say: Either an adverse opinion (if the accounts aren’t prepared on a break up basis) or unqualified opinion with emphasis of matter (if they’re produced on a break up basis).

What auditors mean: The company is probably not a going concern.  It might be in the process of an orderly winding down in order to return money to investors.  Take extreme caution in investing, as there’s a very short time to recover your investment.

What investors hear?: RUN FOR THE HILLS! If you have already invested money in this company’s bonds or shares, you’ve lost it; make your peace with your grief and move on.

So in effect, mentioning going concern could be the kiss of death for many companies.

Could there be a better system to use? The international market for bonds for example has long had a well understood and much more subtle system, using gradings such as the Standard and Poor’s grading system of grading risk of default on bonds from AAA rating (virtually no risk) to BBB (becoming speculative) to D (virtually dead).

In the current high risk, post recessionary environment, might it be better for to adopt a similar system for going concern and thus the company’s shares as well as bonds?  The directors could present a separate report on going concern and assign their own S&P style grading, which the auditor could then perform a review engagement upon under ISRE 2400, giving investors explicit but limited assurance on the directors’ classification. By doing that, the spectrum of risk that going concern represents could be more accurately reflected in the financial statements.

Going back to Liverpool, there’s a view that some football clubs are too big to go out of business and I’m sure that most Liverpool supporters believe they will still be cheering on their team for many years to come and the subject of “Going Concern” isn’t top of their agenda.

The ExP Group