Monthly Archives: January 2017

When Disclosure Obligations Reach Beyond Financial Reporting

By: George M. Wilson & Carol A. Stacey

Good accounting requires good communication. Many times information that is well-removed from the financial reporting and accounting functions has impacts on the financial statements or other parts of the SEC reporting process, especially MD&A. The Sarbanes Oxley Act built on the internal accounting controls guidance in section 13(b) of the FCPA Act in expanding the evaluation, audit and reporting requirements for internal control over financial reporting, or ICFR, and creating the concept of disclosure controls and procedures, or DCP.

A recent enforcement action brings home, at this important year-end time, the importance of effective disclosure controls throughout the company, with perhaps redundant controls that search beyond traditional financial reporting functions for issues that may impact the financial statements or require disclosure in other parts of a periodic report. It reinforces the idea that responsibility for disclosure is a company-wide obligation, and that companies need to build reliable infrastructures to ensure that investors receive all of the information they are supposed to receive.

ICFR and its related requirements have been part of the reporting process for decades. ICFR is formally defined in Exchange Act Rule 13(a)-15 as:

a process designed by, or under the supervision of, the issuer’s principal executive and principal financial officers, or persons performing similar functions, and effected by the issuer’s board of directors, management and other personnel, to provide reasonable assurance regarding the reliability of financial reporting and the preparation of financial statements for external purposes in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles and includes those policies and procedures that:

(1) Pertain to the maintenance of records that in reasonable detail accurately and fairly reflect the transactions and dispositions of the assets of the issuer;

(2) Provide reasonable assurance that transactions are recorded as necessary to permit preparation of financial statements in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles, and that receipts and expenditures of the issuer are being made only in accordance with authorizations of management and directors of the issuer; and

(3) Provide reasonable assurance regarding prevention or timely detection of unauthorized acquisition, use or disposition of the issuer’s assets that could have a material effect on the financial statements.

ICFR is all about the financial statements and that of course includes all of the relevant disclosures in the footnotes to the financial statements.

Here is how SOX expanded this process and formally defined disclosure controls in Exchange Act Rule 13(a)-15:

For purposes of this section, the term disclosure controls and procedures means controls and other procedures of an issuer that are designed to ensure that information required to be disclosed by the issuer in the reports that it files or submits under the Act (15 U.S.C. 78a et seq.) is recorded, processed, summarized and reported, within the time periods specified in the Commission’s rules and forms. Disclosure controls and procedures include, without limitation, controls and procedures designed to ensure that information required to be disclosed by an issuer in the reports that it files or submits under the Act is accumulated and communicated to the issuer’s management, including its principal executive and principal financial officers, or persons performing similar functions, as appropriate to allow timely decisions regarding required disclosure.

What is clear in this definition is that DCP relates to the entire report, not just the financial statements. And, both ICFR and DCP are relevant to the financial statements.

The terms “accumulate and communicate” are particularly relevant for this case. DCP clearly applies to the concept of a known trend in MD&A, which may not be relevant to the financial statements. It also applies to information that may be relevant to accounting for contingencies, even when that information is in an operational area.

In the enforcement case mentioned above the company paid “a $1 million penalty to settle charges that deficient internal accounting controls prevented the company from properly assessing the potential impact on its financial statements of a defective ignition switch found in some vehicles.” Further,

“[t]he SEC’s order finds that the company’s internal investigation involving the defective ignition switch wasn’t brought to the attention of its accountants until November 2013 even though other (company) personnel understood in the spring of 2012 that there was a safety issue at hand. Therefore, during at least an 18-month period, accountants at the (company) did not properly evaluate the likelihood of a recall occurring or the potential losses resulting from a recall of cars with the defective ignition switch.

This case clearly addressed accounting for contingencies and the related GAAP disclosures. In other situations there may not be a contingency disclosure, but there could be a known trend in MD&A. Both are relevant issues as we work through year-end. What this all builds to is that the disclosure process, including both ICFR and DCP, has to reach beyond the information required for financial statement reporting.

It is all about communication! And this might be a good time to communicate this issue to your disclosure committee and all the parts of your organization.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

Whistleblower Reminders

By: George M. Wilson & Carol A. Stacey

 

On December 19 and 20, 2016, as a year-end reminder, the SEC’s Enforcement Division announced two more cases to emphasize that companies MUST NOT do anything to impede employees from blowing the whistle.

You can find a lot more background about this issue in this post.

In the first case NeuStar Inc. paid a fine of $180,000 for putting restrictive language in severance agreements.

The SEC found that NeuStar was “routinely entering into severance agreements that contained a broad non-disparagement clause forbidding former employees from engaging with the SEC and other regulators ‘in any communication that disparages, denigrates, maligns or impugns’ the company.” The agreements were structured harshly. Departed employees would lose all but $100 of their severance pay if they violated the agreement. This language impeded at least one former employee from contacting the SEC.

In the second case Oklahoma City-based SandRidge Energy Inc. agreed to pay a fine of $1.4 million. Even though the company reviewed their severance arrangements several times after new Dodd/Frank rules were put in place, they continued to include language “restricting” former employees from blowing the whistle to regulators.

The SEC found that “SandRidge fired an internal whistleblower who kept raising concerns about the process used by SandRidge to calculate its publicly reported oil-and-gas reserves.”

The message is clear – Don’t try to limit a former employee’s ability to blow the whistle! Instead, take steps to investigate the matter!

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

Non-GAAP Measures – Rise of the Enforcement Message!

By: George M. Wilson & Carol A. Stacey

On January 18, 2017, the SEC ended the speculation about whether or when we would see enforcement actions focused on non-GAAP measures.   MDC Partners, a New York marketing company, paid a fine and consented to an SEC cease-and-desist order without admitting or denying the findings. The case dealt with two issues, non-GAAP measures and failure to disclose certain perks properly. The non-GAAP measure issue related to amounts disclosed for “organic revenue growth” which the company did not calculate consistently from period to period. In addition the company did not present the comparable GAAP measure with equal or greater prominence, as Regulation S-K Item 10(e) requires in an earnings release.

 

Both issues are frequently discussed areas in the SEC’s May 2016 C&DI’s about non-GAAP measures.

 

You can read the related release here.

 

 

IPO’s – Getting Ready and Keeping Up

By: George M. Wilson & Carol A. Stacey

If you are contemplating an IPO or advising companies in this process, PLI’s “Securities Offerings 2017: A Public Offering: How it is Done” will provide you with valuable knowledge and how-to tools about the IPO process. The program simulates an offering from start to finish, builds a foundation in the law and SEC guidance, and walks through each step in the process. The program is on March 3, 2017 and you can learn more here.

The program also includes up to 2 hours of ethics credit (see program page on www.pli.edu for credit by state).

Why, Oh Why, Is It Always Segments?

By: George M. Wilson & Carol A. Stacey

If you have been involved with SEC reporting for more than say, five minutes, you have heard about or discussed with someone the SEC’s focus on operating segments. Segment related disclosures are included in several Form 10-K Items, including:

Item 1 – Description of the business,

Item 2 – Properties,

Item 7 – MD&A, and of course

Item 8 – Financial Statements.

Almost every SEC conference or workshop addresses the importance of segment disclosures.

The latest segment “message” from the SEC is in the November 7, 2016 Accounting and Auditing Enforcement Release dealing with PowerSecure.

It is the same familiar message we heard in the Sony case in 1998 and the PACCAR case in 2013. When companies avoid making proper GAAP disclosures for operating segments to try and bury problems in one part of a business with profits from another part of their business, trouble will result.

In the “classic” Sony case the company used profits from its music business to mask problems in its movie business. This case also has a great known trend disclosure problem and becomes an almost scary “double trouble” example. To escalate this case to “triple trouble” the SEC also made it clear that Sony’s assignment of MD&A to the IR manager was not appropriate by naming that person in the case and forcing Sony to reassign this responsibility to the CFO. With all that was going on with Sony the SEC went so far as to require the company to engage its auditors to “examine” MD&A. Surprisingly, under the attest standards, auditors can issue a full opinion report on MD&A!

In the PACCAR case problems in new truck sales were hidden with profits from truck parts sales. This SEC Complaint includes a very detailed summary of the operating segment disclosure requirements, discussing in detail how PACCAR’s management viewed the business and how, in the SEC’s judgement, PACCAR was not following the GAAP requirements. It includes this language:

“However, in reporting its truck and parts results as a single segment, PACCAR did not provide investors with the same insight into the Company as PACCAR’s executives.”

This story line repeats in PowerSecure. For the periods in question PowerSecure reported one segment when that was not how management actually viewed the business:

“PowerSecure also misapplied ASC 280 by concluding that its CODM – who was determined to be the Chief Executive Officer (“CEO”) – did not regularly review operating results below the consolidated level to make decisions about resource allocations and to assess performance. This was inconsistent with the way in which the CEO regularly received, reviewed, and reported on the results of the business and how the company was structured. On a monthly basis, the CEO received financial results that reflected a measure of profitability on a more disaggregated level than the consolidated entity. Further, on a quarterly basis, the CEO met with each business unit some of the business unit leaders had business unit level budgets and forecasts and received incentive compensation based, at least in part, upon the results of their business unit.“

The message is clear, don’t use segments to try and hide problems! As a last reminder, don’t forget that these disclosure requirements may go to an even lower level than operating segments in MD&A. Regulation S-K Item 303 makes this clear:

“Where in the registrant’s judgment a discussion of segment information or of other subdivisions of the registrant’s business would be appropriate to an understanding of such business, the discussion shall focus on each relevant, reportable segment or other subdivision of the business and on the registrant as a whole.”

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

 

Third Annual Form 10-K Tune-Up

As you draft your annual Form 10-K it is always a challenge to be sure that you deal effectively with new and emerging issues and the ever-evolving focus areas of the SEC. Register for our January 23rd One Hour Briefing, Form 10-K Tune-Up. Review the key issues to address in this year’s Form 10-K, including the latest in SEC Staff comments about non-GAAP measures; new accounting standards, revenue recognition, leases and financial instruments.

http://www.pli.edu/Content/Seminar/Third_Annual_Form_10_K_Tune_Up_/_/N-4kZ1z10jog?Ns=sort_date%7c0&ID=301955