Tag Archives: PLI Securities Regulation

Fake SEC Filings and Enforcement in the Electronic Age

By: George M. Wilson & Carol A. Stacey

 

Over the many decades that equity securities have traded in the U.S., and over the centuries that equities have traded around the world, unscrupulous people have always tried to find ways to cheat others. From pump and dump schemes to fake analyst reports new ways are constantly evolving as less than ethical people look for a quick buck. One of the more recently developed sneaky tricks is to create a fictitious user ID in the SEC’s EDGAR system and try to manipulate a company’s stock with fake SEC filings such as tender offer documents. In a way this is kind of a “pump and dump” strategy, and it is all about fake news.

 

In February of this year an artist in Chicago used this trick to try and manipulate Alphabet’s stock. In May 2015, Avon stock was used in a similar scheme. In September 2015, a person used an SEC filing in the name of “LMZ & Berkshire Hathaway Co.” to try and manipulate Phillips 66 and Kraft Heinz. The report was signed with a false name.

 

That same false name was used on a filing to announce a fake tender offer for Fitbit in November 2017.

 

When there are new kinds of crimes, the SEC sets out to develop the right tools and techniques to find the perpetrators and protect investors and the markets from bad actors. They are making progress with this new kind of electronic and internet based crime. On May 19, 2017, fairly soon after the Fitbit false filing, the SEC announced an enforcement action against Robert W. Murray, the alleged perpetrator of this fraud, with a parallel criminal action by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. Mr. Murry is a mechanical engineer based in Virginia.

 

According to the SEC Murray wove a tangled technical trail:

 

The SEC alleges that Murray created an email account under the name of someone he found on the internet, and the email account was used to gain access to the EDGAR system.  Murray then allegedly listed that person as the CFO of ABM Capital and used a business address associated with that person in the fake filing.  The SEC also alleges that Murray attempted to conceal his identity and actual location at the time of the filing after conducting research into prior SEC cases that highlighted the IP addresses the false filers used to submit forms on EDGAR.  According to the SEC’s complaint, it appeared as though the system was being accessed from a different state by using an IP address registered to a company located in Napa, California.

 

In the words of enforcement, this attempt to hide his actions did not work:

 

“As alleged in our complaint, Murray used deceptive techniques in a concerted effort to evade detection, but we were able to connect the dots quickly and hold him accountable,” said Stephanie Avakian, Acting Director of the SEC Enforcement Division.

 

For all his effort, and for the potential consequences, Murray’s ill-gotten gains in this scheme were only about $3,100!

 

Always fun to see how new ways to try and cheat don’t evade the consequences!

 

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

 

Demystifying Alternative Financing Solutions for Emerging and Growing Companies

Auditors and Financial Officers of companies who raise capital with complex financial instruments often find themselves drowning in convoluted accounting issues and restatements. Avoid the confusion by attending the live workshop, Debt vs. Equity Accounting for Complex Financial Instruments being held June 23rd in San Francisco. Through a detailed review of the accounting literature and numerous examples and case studies this Workshop will help you build the knowledge and experience to appropriately recognize, initially record and subsequently account for these complex financing tools

http://www.pli.edu/Content/Debt_vs_Equity_Accounting_for_Complex_Financial/_/N-1z10odmZ4k?ID=290521&t=WLH7_PDAD

Challenging Accounting Judgments, Principles Based Standards and ICFR

By: George M. Wilson & Carol A. Stacey

As you have undoubtedly heard from a variety of sources (including this post we made last December), the new revenue recognition, financial instruments impairment and lease standards all involve many new and sometimes complex accounting judgments and estimates.

 

Issues ranging from how to estimate current expected credit losses to what is stand-alone selling price confront us with new, difficult, and subjective judgment calls.

 

Even the Chief Accountant has discussed this issue in a recent speech, which we discussed in our blog. In his remarks, the Chief Accountant focused on ICFR, specifically mentioning:

 

“Having the requisite skills in the accounting and financial reporting area to make the many new, complex judgements required by these standards, and

 

Setting an appropriate tone at the top to assure these judgments are made in a reasonable, consistent and appropriate manner.”

 

To help us all deal with these challenges the Anti-Fraud Collaboration, a group made up of the Center For Audit Quality, FEI, NACD and IIA, has issued a report titled “Addressing Challenges for Highly Subjective and Complex Accounting Areas”.

 

This report is built on a foundation of detailed analysis of several SEC and PCAOB enforcement cases, a webcast and two workshops. The report has a robust discussion of several of the issues underlying these enforcement cases. One important conclusion drawn from this work is that a lack of controls surrounding subjective and complex accounting judgments is frequently a root cause underlying reporting problems. Based on this conclusion, the report includes a discussion of ways to help establish appropriate controls for such estimates and judgments. In fact, one of the enumerated objectives of the report is to:

 

“Facilitate a robust discussion about accounting policy, centering on highly subjective and complex accounting areas, and the design and operating effectiveness of ICFR”

In the report, there are several insights into ICFR issues surrounding complex judgments. For example:

 

Difficult Accounting Issues

 

Three accounting issues were problematic for companies under investigation: revenue recognition, loan impairment, and valuation. Both highly subjective and complex, these three areas were under stress during the financial crisis and therefore more prone to manipulation or error. The analysis of the AAERs also highlighted issues with the accounting policies pertaining to these areas. In the enforcement actions studied, the SEC cited that the companies either did not have an adequate accounting policy or procedure for the issue being investigated; the company was non-compliant with their existing policy or procedure; or that management acted to override the company’s accounting policy.

 

 

The report goes on to state:

 

For all members of the financial reporting supply chain, the importance of tone at the top cannot be overstated. In most cases of alleged financial fraud, the SEC names the CEO and/or the CFO in the complaint. Commission staff noted that the driver of earnings management—the catalyst for most fraud cases—is often top management, such that the focus on the CEO and CFO is not surprising. In cases the PCAOB has brought against individual auditors, it is usually the lead audit engagement partner or other senior members of an audit engagement team who are disciplined.

 

 

Hopefully, as you think about the design of ICFR over the new estimates and judgments required to implement the revenue recognition, lease and financial instrument impairment standards, you will find some helpful ideas in this report.

 

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

 

 

Learn About Recent Whistleblower Developments

By: George M. Wilson & Carol A. Stacey

 

We have done several posts about whistleblowing and the related SOX and Dodd-Frank whistle blower regimens. It is hard to overstate the importance of whistleblowers in the SEC’s enforcement efforts.
On April 25, 2017, the SEC announced a $4 million payout to a whistleblower who provided industry-specific experience and expertise to the staff as they conducted their investigation. In that release they also announced that whistleblower payouts now total approximately $153 million!
Keeping abreast of whistleblowing developments is an important part of governance and compliance.   To help in this process we are offering our Corporate Whistleblowing program on June 28. This program will provide in-depth perspectives on recent regulatory and legal developments, including:

  • What direction the federal whistleblower protection programs will likely take under the new administration
  • What to expect in case law and regulatory enforcement developments in the coming year
  • Best practices in responding to whistleblower reports
  • Key ethical considerations in conducting internal investigations of issues raised by whistleblowers.

 

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

Are There Consequences for Reporting ICFR Problems? – The Chief Accountant Speaks!

By: George M. Wilson & Carol A. Stacey

In a recent speech SEC Chief Accountant Wesley Bricker, towards the end of his remarks, made some interesting overall comments about the evaluation of ICFR. These comments are an interesting step in the ongoing conversation about whether the SOX 404 evaluation of ICFR makes any difference in investor behavior. There has been a lot of anecdotal evidence and much discussion about this question. Mr. Bricker’s comments are not based on supposition, inference or piecemeal observation. His comments have their roots in articles from various academic journals, including the Accounting Review and The Journal of Accounting Research. Research in these peer-reviewed journals is based on statistical analysis of quantitative data. (If you have never heard of these journals, they are very prestigious academic journals, so if you decide to read any of the articles grab a cup of coffee and a calculator!)

Here are some excerpts from his remarks. The footnote numbers are references to the academic papers which support his points. We left them in so you could follow-up if you would like to review the quantitative research underlying his comments.

 

Recent experience with disclosures 

Another point related to ICFR is consideration of disclosures.  Investors tend to incorporate disclosure of ICFR deficiencies in the price they are willing to pay for a stock.  For example, companies disclosing material weaknesses are more likely to experience increased cost of capital, and to face more frequent auditor resignations and restatements.[11]

 

Recent academic research suggests:

 

Companies disclosing internal control deficiencies have credit spreads on loans about 28 basis points higher than that for companies without internal control deficiencies; [12] and

 

After disclosing an internal control deficiency for the first time, companies experience a significant increase in cost of equity, averaging about 93 basis points. [13]

 

Remediation of ineffective ICFR tends to be followed by improved financial reporting quality, reduced cost of capital, and improved operating performance.[14]   For example,

 

Companies that have remediated their prior disclosed internal control deficiencies exhibit an average decrease in market-adjusted cost of equity of 151 basis points; [15]  and

 

Remediating companies also experience increases in investment efficiency and in operating performance, suggesting that accounting information generated by effective ICFR is more useful for managerial decision-making. [16]

 

A disclosure of material weaknesses, combined with demonstrating progress toward remediation, can provide investors with information about the company’s ability to function as a public company.  Some companies, for example, voluntarily disclose material weaknesses in their registration statements along with their plans for remediating those weaknesses. [17]

 

You can find citations in to the relevant articles in the text of the speech.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

Master SEC Reporting and Prepare to Tackle New Challenges

 

The complicated world of SEC reporting has now gotten even more challenging! Be sure you are prepared to comply with the recently enacted changes and have a plan in place to deal with the SEC staff “hot buttons”.  Attend SECI’s live workshop SEC Reporting Skills Workshop 2017 being held April 24-25 in Chicago, May 8-9 in McLean, Va., May 16-17 in Dallas and May 24-25 in San Francisco with additional dates and locations listed on the SECI website.

http://www.pli.edu/Content/SEC_Reporting_Skills_Workshop_2017/_/N-1z10od0Z4k?ID=290559

Hope you Don’t Need This One!

As we discuss in all our programs, litigation is one of the issues and risks in the public company world. Our program “Securities Litigation 2017: From Investigation to Trial” on April 5, 2017 includes an expert faculty of practitioners and government officials. Included on the agenda are:

The steps involved in a securities case

The initial government investigation

Filing of the civil case, and

Settlement or the trial

 

Again, hope this is not one you need!

 

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

 

Things are Changing More!

By: George M. Wilson & Carol A. Stacey

 

On February 6, 2017, Acting Chairman Michael Piwowar announced that the SEC will be reconsidering implementation of the Pay Ratio Rule required by the Dodd Frank Act. Chairman Piwowar’s announcement said in part:

“I am seeking public input on any unexpected challenges that issuers have experienced as they prepare for compliance with the rule and whether relief is needed. I welcome and encourage the submission of detailed comments, and request that any comments be submitted within the next 45 days.

I have also directed the staff to reconsider the implementation of the rule based on any comments submitted and to determine as promptly as possible whether additional guidance or relief may be appropriate.”

As you know this new disclosure, unless changed, applies for years beginning on or after January 1, 2017.

 

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Revenue Recognition –Some Example Implementation Judgements and an Update on the AICPA’s Industry Task Forces

By: George M. Wilson & Carol A. Stacey

Some of the New Revenue Recognition Judgments

If you have begun your implementation work for the new revenue recognition standard you know that this one-size-fits-all, principles based model will require many new judgments for most of us. Among the challenging questions are:

  1. When does an agreement with a customer become legally enforceable and include the five elements that bring it in scope for revenue recognition?
  2. How do we properly account on the balance sheet for transactions with customers before there is an in-scope, legally enforceable contract?
  3. When does a product or service we deliver to a customer meet the new criteria of “distinct” and become a performance obligation, the unit of account for revenue recognition?
  4. How do we make the now required estimate of variable consideration and apply the new constraint?
  5. What will be the best method to make the required estimate of stand-alone selling price when it is not directly observable?
  6. When does control transfer to a customer now that delivery, ownership and risk of loss are no longer the points in time when revenue is recognized?

 

This list is, of course, in no way complete. Individual companies may find their judgments more or less extensive and complex.

While the FASB has produced all of these new principles and the related judgments, it has also included a fair amount of implementation guidance in the new standard and clarified several issues in updates to the ASU. There are a few more soon to be final technical corrections in another ASU that you can read about here.

 

AICPA Help for Specialized Industries

 

Since this new standard is a “one-size-fits-all” approach to revenue recognition and it supersedes all industry specific guidance we have today, industries like oil and gas, airlines and others face unique challenges. In addition to the FASB’s efforts to assist us in this process you may have heard that the AICPA has also formed special task forces to deal with industry specific challenges in implementing the new standard.

You can learn about the AICPA’s efforts surrounding the new revenue recognition task force here.

The industry groups are:

 

There are over 100 specific position papers that have been put in process for the working groups and task forces which will ultimately be reviewed by FINREC. If you work in one of these industries, the links above will help you find the related working papers and their status.

 

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!