June 16, 2015

Restatements: Frequency Steady & Severity Low (But Class Actions Increasing)

Here’s some thoughts from Baker & McKenzie’s Dan Goelzer: Recently, Audit Analytics released its annual report on financial restatement trends, “Financial Restatements 2014–A Fourteen Year Comparison.” The study concludes that the absolute number of restatements is constant and the severity of restatements is relatively low, although there is a trend toward more restatements by large public companies. According to the report synopsis and AA’s blog:

– During the last five years, the number of public company restatements has remained essentially flat. Restatements peaked at 1,842 in 2006. By 2009, restatements had fallen to 761. Restatements rose to 836 in 2010 and have remained near that number through 2014.
– While the overall number of restatements is relatively constant, the number of accelerated filers – the largest public companies – announcing restatements is rising. In 2009 and 2010, 171 accelerated filers restated. That number has increased each year since 2010. In 2014, 309 accelerated filers restated.
– The severity of restatements remained low in 2014, consistent with AA’s findings during the past several years. In 2014, the average public company restatement resulted in an income adjustment of $1.9 million, the lowest adjustment amount in eight years. In addition, AA’s blog states that “virtually all” of the severity indicators tracked by Audit Analytics remained low in 2014. The severity indicators are negative impact on net income; average cumulative impact on net income per restatement; percentage of restatements with no impact on income statement; average number of days restated; and average number of issues identified in restatement.

A somewhat different perspective emerges from a report released by Cornerstone Research. That report, entitled “Accounting Class Action Filings and Settlements—2014 Review and Analysis,” finds that securities class actions with accounting-related allegations increased in 2014; 69 new accounting cases were filed, an increase of 47 percent over 2013. (Cases are considered “accounting cases” if they involve allegations related to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) violations, auditing violations, or weaknesses in internal control over financial reporting.) Other highlights of the Cornerstone report include:

– More than one in four of the accounting class action complaints referred to an SEC inquiry or action. This is the highest level of private accounting suits that parallel SEC enforcement cases since Cornerstone began tracking this variable in 2010.
– Accounting cases involving restatements increased to the highest level in seven years – both in terms of the number of cases filed (29) and as a percentage of total accounting cases (42 percent).
– Since 2010, the majority of accounting cases have included allegations of internal control weaknesses. In 2014, 60 percent of cases filed involved internal control weaknesses.
– The “Disclosure Dollar Loss Index” for accounting cases involving restatements increased to its highest level since 2005. The Disclosure Dollar Loss Index is a measure of the decline in market capitalization at the end of the class period.

In Cornerstone’s press release, Dr. Elaine Harwood, a Cornerstone Research vice president and head of the firm’s accounting practice, offered this explanation for the increase in class action litigation alleging accounting violations: “The increase appears to be, at least in part, a result of the SEC’s heightened focus on accounting-related fraud as demonstrated by the substantial growth in accounting case filings that refer to inquiries or actions by the SEC.” As to the reasons why more class actions relating to restatements were filed in 2014, Dr. Laura Simmons, a Cornerstone Research senior advisor, observed: “The increase in filings of cases involving restatements is consistent with our finding of a relative increase in negative stock price movements surrounding restatement announcements in 2014 as compared to recent years.”

Comment: The Audit Analytics study is consistent with other research indicating that the reliability of financial reporting has increased post-Sarbanes-Oxley. However, as Cornerstone’s research indicates, market-moving restatements, while rarer than in earlier years, still can have severe consequences, both in terms of SEC action and private litigation.

Here’s a blog by Chevron’s Rick Hansen entitled “Audit Committees: 2015 Mid-Year Issues Update.”

IFRS: Reports of US Death Exaggerated?

A few months ago, I blogged an excerpt from an article that quoted the SEC’s Chief Accountant Jim Schnurr as saying that “there is virtually no support to have the SEC mandate IFRS for all registrants.” Now, a few weeks ago, Jim gave a speech in which he seemed to disagree that IFRS is dead in the US (as noted in this article). Here’s an excerpt from his speech:

As I mentioned publicly last month, the staff has recently heard from a number of different constituents about IFRS: preparers, investors, auditors, regulators and standard-setters. We heard three key themes through those discussions: There is virtually no support to have the SEC mandate IFRS for all registrants. There is little support for the SEC to provide an option allowing domestic registrants to prepare their financial statements under IFRS. There is continued support for the objective of a single set of high-quality, globally accepted accounting standards. So, while full-scale adoption or an option does not appear to have support, it does not mean we ‘bury’ the underlying objective of a single set of high-quality, globally accepted accounting standards. On the contrary, constituents continue to support that idea. So, the real questions are: what is the path to achieve that objective and how do we get there?

Delaware House Approves Curb on Fee-Shifting Bylaws

Here’s news from the Delaware Law Weekly (also see this memo):

The state House of Representatives on Thursday unanimously approved SB 75, the annual package of amendments to the Delaware General Corporation Law, which included a measure that would prevent stock corporations from enacting bylaws that impose attorney fees and costs on plaintiffs who lose after filing lawsuits alleging corporate waste or wrongdoing. The measure now goes to the desk of Gov. Jack Markell, who is expected to sign it into law.

“SB 75 helps preserve the balance between shareholders and management and ensures that shareholders in Delaware corporations have access to the Court of Chancery,” said Kelly Bachman, Markell’s press secretary. “The governor would like to thank the Corporation Law Council for its continued efforts to improve Delaware law and preserve Delaware’s place as the leading state of incorporation.”

Approval—which required a two-thirds vote—came on a 40-0 vote with one state representative absent.

Chief Deputy Secretary of State Richard J. Geisenberger came to the chamber before the vote to answer lawmakers’ questions and said its drafters were confident that the bill would maintain the delicate balance of Delaware’s franchise in corporate regulation, which he said is worth $1.1 billion annually to the First State. The state should aim, Geisenberger said, “to strike a balance between the attractiveness of our corporate statute to managers and [the needs of] raising capital from shareholders.”

He added that he did not think banning stock corporations from adopting fee-shifting bylaws posed a risk to Delaware’s attractiveness as a state of choice for incorporation. He stressed that another key provision of the act allows corporations to state in their bylaws that claims under the DGCL be brought only in the courts of Delaware.

– Broc Romanek