The PCAOB in Motion

Since the SEC’s appointment of an essentially entirely new board on November 8, 2021, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) has taken several steps that help auditors and companies begin to understand the future directions of audit oversight and standard setting.

In early 2022, the Board established two new advisory groups, the Investor Advisory Group and the Standards and Emerging Issues Advisory Group.  It approved charters for the groups on March 29, 2022, and on May 9, 2022, announced the members of each group and set dates for their first meetings.   The meeting summaries for the advisory groups can provide insight into areas the PCAOB may address in the future.

On June 7, 2022, the Board hired its first ever Investor Advocate.  This new role is expected to enhance engagement with investors and “amplify investor voices” in the activities of the PCAOB.

The Board also established new Standard-Setting and Research Agendas on May 4, 2022.  Included are several projects to update and modernize the “interim standards” adopted shortly after the PCAOB’s formation.

On June 21, 2022, the Board adopted amendments to its auditing standards designed to “strengthen requirements that apply to audits involving multiple audit firms.”  The amendments were developed after three comment solicitations and were formally approved by the SEC on August 12, 2022.  They will be effective for audits of financial statements for fiscal years ending on or after December 15, 2024.

On August 17, 2022 the Board released its latest Audit Committee Resource.  This PCAOB Spotlight document is designed to offer “questions that audit committees of public companies might want to consider as part of their ongoing engagement and discussion with their auditors, including how the auditors are responding to the financial reporting and audit risks posed by the current economic environment.”

In June 2022, the Inspections Division published its “Staff Overview for Planned 2022 Inspections.”  This document, which is relevant not just for auditors but for audit committees and investors, “highlights selected areas of planned 2022 inspection focus.”

On August 26, 2022, the PCAOB announced the signing of a “Statement of Protocol” with the China Securities Regulatory Commission and the Ministry of Finance of the People’s Republic of China.  This document is a significant step in providing a process for the PCAOB to conduct inspections of Chinese audit firms and, if necessary, pursue investigations. 

Lastly, in a process that builds on these steps and provides insight into the overall direction of the PCAOB, on August 16, 2022, the Board published for comment a draft “Five-Year Strategic Plan for Protecting Investors.”  The plan sets out four goals which are consistent with its actions in recent months:

  • Goal 1:  Modernize Standards
  • Goal 2:  Enhance Inspections
  • Goal 3:  Strengthen Enforcement
  • Goal 4:  Improve Organizational Effectiveness

The momentum and direction of the PCAOB is becoming clear with its actions and Spotlight statements.  Each of these developments clearly fits with the elements of the draft Five-Year Strategic Plan.  This information can help auditors and companies as they plan and execute audits.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

SEC Adjusts JOBS Act Revenue Threshold for Inflation

The 2012 JOBS Act requires the SEC to adjust the Emerging Growth Company (EGC) revenue threshold for inflation every five years.  (If you would like a quick refresher about the “IPO On-Ramp” created by the JOBS Act, check out this summary at SEC.gov.)  In 2017, the first inflation adjustment increased the revenue threshold from $1,000,000,000 to $1,070,000,000.  On September 9, 2022, the SEC announced the second inflation adjustment, increasing the threshold to $1,235,000,000.  You can read more in this Press Release, which includes links to the Final Rule and Fact Sheet.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

SEC Charges VMware in “Reverse” Channel Stuffing Case

We have blogged about many SEC “pull forward” enforcement cases.  They all involve companies that “pull forward” orders scheduled for future periods to the current period to meet sales forecasts and expectations. (Check out this post for several example cases).  As the volume of these cases shows, “pull forwards” are a common way companies can try to mask revenue shortfalls.  Interestingly, in almost all these cases, there is no financial statement revenue recognition misstatement.  Goods are shipped and revenue is recognized in the proper period.  Most of these cases focus on companies not disclosing the impact of related management practices, including price reductions, extended payment terms and the potential impact on future period revenues.

In an interesting twist on this practice, on September 12, 2022, the SEC charged VMware with “managing” its backlog to move orders from current quarters to future quarters, the mirror image of a “pull forward.”  According to the SEC’s Accounting and Auditing Enforcement Release, this allowed VMware to meet revenue forecasts and related analysts’ expectations during a period where its business slowed relative to projections and its sales mix was shifting from a point in time license model to a revenue recognition over time subscription model.

The basis for this case is failing to disclose to investors how VMware “managed” its backlog.  Revenue was not misstated.  The case includes disclosures in Exchange Act reports, earnings calls and earnings releases. According to the AAER:

“Beginning with its Form 10-Q filed for Q1 FY19, VMware began disclosing in its filings that ‘[t]he amount and composition of [VMware’s] backlog will fluctuate period to period, and backlog is managed based upon multiple considerations, including product and geography,’ but the disclosure omitted material information regarding the discretionary nature of VMware’s backlog, the extent to which VMware controlled the amount of its backlog, and how backlog was used to manage the timing of the company’s recognition of total and license revenue. In actuality, VMware’s backlog practices during the relevant period were controlled for the purpose of determining in which quarters revenue would be recognized and had the effect of obscuring the company’s financial results and avoiding revenue shortfalls versus company financial guidance and analysts’ estimates in at least three quarters during FY20, as well as full-year FY20.”

The AAER focuses on disclosure:

“In making public statements regarding its backlog, VMware omitted material information regarding the extent to which the company controlled its quarter-end total and license backlog numbers through its use of discretionary holds, and the extent to which it used backlog to control the timing of revenue recognition generally. The managed backlog disclosure did not convey to investors the material information that backlog was used by VMware to manage the timing of revenue recognition based upon factors such as the company’s financial guidance and  analysts’ estimates. This information was necessary in order to make VMware’s statements regarding its backlog, in light of the circumstances under which they were made, not misleading.”

In key parts of the AAER, the SEC addresses materiality:

“VMware’s statements and omissions regarding its quarterly revenue and revenue growth, without disclosing the impact that the company’s discretionary backlog practices and revenue management had on reported revenue, materially concealed a substantial FY20 slowing in the company’s recognized revenue growth versus expectations. Reasonable investors would have considered the foregoing information to have been important in deciding whether to purchase VMware securities during the relevant period.”

“In addition, this was important information to analysts, who began questioning VMware’s backlog ‘drawdown’ following the company’s Q1 earnings call and continued to question the continual reductions in quarter-end backlog numbers throughout the remainder of the fiscal year. VMware recognized the materiality of the issue when preparing its Q&A scripts.”

VMware paid an $8,000,000 fine.  The company did not admit or deny the SEC’s findings.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

CorpFin Adds New Offices for Crypto Assets and Industrial Applications and Services

On September 9, 2022, CorpFin added two new offices to its Disclosure Review Program (DRP), the Office of Crypto Assets and the Office of Industrial Applications.  This brings the total number of DRP offices to nine.

The Office of Crypto Assets will consolidate the review of filings involving crypto assets into one group.  This will “enable the DRP to better focus its resources and expertise to address the unique and evolving filing review issues related to crypto assets.”

The Office of Industrial Applications and Services will review non-pharma, non-biotech, and non-medicinal products companies currently being reviewed in the Office of Life Sciences.

You can read more in this Press Release.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

SEC Institute’s 18th Annual SEC Reporting & FASB Forum for Mid-sized & Smaller Companies* – Register Now!

On September 22-23, 2022, SEC Institute will present the 18th Annual SEC Reporting & FASB Forum for Mid-sized & Smaller Companies.  Participants can attend in-person at PLI’s New York Conference Center or via Live Webcast.  The program will include our top-notch speakers addressing relevant and important topics which will help you:

  • Understand the details of the SEC’s proposed rules on climate change and cybersecurity disclosure requirements
  • Explore updates on other rulemaking and interpretive guidance in the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance, plus hot topics in their comment process
  • Evaluate the latest on FASB’s projects, including Segment Reporting and Disaggregation of Income Statement Expenses
  • Review the status of the changes from reference rate reform and other financial instruments hot topics
  • Discuss MD&A hot topics, including inflation, reference rate reform, cybersecurity, ESG matters and progress on implementing the 2020 rules
  • Hear a lively SEC reporting roundtable discussion of current events, including discussion of the SEC’s proposed rules and other accounting and reporting issues
  • Review recent SEC enforcement actions, whistleblowing developments and ethical challenges
  • Recall tips for staying out of trouble with a focus on audit quality, enforcement and other PCAOB matters

You can learn more and register here

*Forums are included with Privileged Membership.

A Frequent SEC Comment – “Can You Prove it?”

In both offering documents and periodic reports companies frequently make assertions like the following, which appears in a Form S-1 Registration Statement for Doximity:

Overview

We are the leading digital platform for medical professionals, with over____ million members as of March 31, 2021, including more than ____% of physicians across all 50 states and every medical specialty.

(Note:  The numbers were left blank in the first draft registration statement submitted to the SEC.)

When companies make these sorts of assertions, the SEC will invariably ask for support, as the staff did in this comment:

Draft Registration Statement on Form S-1 submitted March 5, 2021

Prospectus Summary Overview, page 1

  1. You describe yourself as the “leading digital platform for U.S. medical professionals.” Please provide the basis for your characterization that you have a leading software platform and describe how this leadership is defined and/or determined. For example, it is not clear whether you are basing this on objective criteria such as market share based on revenues for competing software platforms in your industry.

As long as the company can support their assertion, these types of statements are acceptable disclosures.  In this case Doximity supported their assertion with this response and clarified disclosure:

Prospectus Summary

Overview, page 1

1.You describe yourself as the “leading digital platform for U.S. medical professionals.” Please provide the basis for your characterization that you have a leading software platform and describe how this leadership is defined and/or determined. For example, it is not clear whether you are basing this on objective criteria such as market share based on revenues for competing software platforms in your industry.

RESPONSE: The Company respectfully acknowledges the Staff’s comment, and advises the Staff that it has revised the disclosure on pages 1, 63, and 91 of the Amended Draft Registration Statement to address the Staff’s comment. The Company also advises the Staff that the Company is basing this on the number of U.S. physicians utilizing its platform compared to competing software platforms in its industry.

The clarified disclosure, which was included in an amended Form S-1, appropriately describes the measure the company uses to support its “leading” status:

Overview

We are the leading digital platform for U.S. medical professionals, as measured by the number of U.S. physician members, with over 1.8 million medical professional members as of March 31, 2021. Our members include more than 80% of physicians across all 50 states and every medical specialty.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

Check Out PLI’s inSecurities Podcast and our SEC Institute Newsletter

If you have not yet listened to PLI’s inSecurities Podcast, it is a wonderful way to keep up with current developments in securities regulation and company reporting.  You can find all episodes here.

The latest inSecurities episode features a discussion of our most recent SEC Institute Quarterly Newsletter, including a special Sarbanes-Oxley Act trivia quiz featuring Chris Ekimoff and Kurt Wolf, the podcast hosts, along with SEC Institute Workshop Leader George Wilson.  If you would like to subscribe to the SECI Newsletter, visit us at SEC Institute and scroll to the middle of the page to sign up!

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

SEC Amends Whistleblower Rules

On August 26, 2022, the SEC amended its whistleblower program rules to incentivize whistleblower tips. As you can read in the related Press Release, the changes “allow the Commission to pay whistleblowers for their information and assistance in connection with non-SEC actions in additional circumstances” and “affirms the Commission’s authority to consider the dollar amount of a potential award for the limited purpose of increasing an award but not to lower an award.”

You can read more about the changes in the related Fact Sheet and final rule.

To date, the whistleblower program has paid out over $1.3 billion to 281 individuals.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

An Example SEC Comment – Litigation

In its December 31, 2020, Form 10-K, O’Reilly Automotive, Inc. included this disclosure about Litigation Accruals in it Summary of Significant Accounting Policies:

Litigation Accruals:

O’Reilly is currently involved in litigation incidental to the ordinary conduct of the Company’s business.  The Company accrues for litigation losses in instances where a material adverse outcome is probable and the Company is able to reasonably estimate the probable loss.  The Company accrues for an estimate of material legal costs to be incurred in pending litigation matters.  Although the Company cannot ascertain the amount of liability that it may incur from any of these matters, it does not currently believe that, in the aggregate, these matters, taking into account applicable insurance and accruals, will have a material adverse effect on its consolidated financial position, results of operations or cash flows in a particular quarter or annual period.

While this seems like an ordinary enough accounting policy, the use of the term “material” when talking about outcomes seems to qualify when probable losses are accrued.  This prompted the SEC to ask O’Reilly this question in a December 21, 2021, comment letter:

  1. It appears based on your disclosure that you only accrue for litigation losses that are material. Please tell us and revise your disclosure to clarify that your litigation accrual policy is in accordance with ASC 450-20-25-2.

The company’s response letter included this explanation and proposed revised disclosure:

Response:

The Company respectfully advises the Staff that it performs an analysis under the provisions of the FASB ASC Topic 450-20, Loss Contingencies (“ASC 450-20”) for all matters.  ASC 450-20 requires an estimated loss from a loss contingency to be accrued as a charge to income if both of the following conditions are met: (a) information as of the date of the financial statements indicates that it is probable (i.e., the future event is likely to occur) that one or more future events will occur confirming the fact that a liability had been incurred, and (b) the amount of the loss can be reasonably estimated.  If the reasonable estimate of the loss is a range, then condition (b) is still deemed to be met.  If an amount within the range appears at the time to be a better estimate of the loss than any other amount within the range, such amount shall be accrued.  However, if no amount within the range is a better estimate than any other amount, the lowest amount in the range shall be accrued.  In accordance with the above analysis, the Company accrues estimated losses as charges to income when the criteria in ASC 450-20-25-2 are met.

On the other hand, disclosure of the contingency, but no accrual, is required if there is at least a reasonable possibility that a loss or an additional loss will occur and either of the following conditions exist: (a) an accrual is not made for a loss contingency because the conditions described above are not met or (b) an exposure to the loss potentially exists in excess of the amount accrued.  If disclosure is required under either of these conditions, the Company discloses the nature of the contingency and an estimate of the possible loss or range of loss or a statement that such an estimate cannot be made.

While the Company has consistently followed the guidance of ASC 450-20-25-2, in future filings the Company will revise its disclosure to clarify that its litigation accrual policy is in accordance with ASC 450-20-25-2.

The proposed revised disclosure is updated as follows:

Litigation accruals:

O’Reilly is currently involved in litigation incidental to the ordinary conduct of the Company’s business.  Based on existing facts and historical patterns, the Company accrues for litigation losses in instances where an adverse outcome is probable and the Company is able to reasonably estimate the probable loss in accordance with ASC 450-20.  The Company also accrues for an estimate of legal costs to be incurred for litigation matters.  Although the Company cannot ascertain the amount of liability that it may incur from legal matters, it does not currently believe that, in the aggregate, these matters, taking into account applicable insurance and accruals, will have a material adverse effect on its consolidated financial position, results of operations or cash flows in a particular quarter or annual period.

After this response the SEC sent their normal closing letter.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

An Example of a “Simple” Failure to Disclose Why Revenues Increased Costs – NVIDIA’s $5,500,000 Penalty

Most MD&A enforcement cases focus on a complex issue, failure to disclose a known trend or uncertainty.  In these cases (e.g., Sony, SeaWorld and Under Armour), company management knows of something that is “reasonably likely” to materially affect financial performance in the future but does not disclose this information to investors in a timely manner.  This disclosure is probabilistic and subjective.

The issue in the SEC’s recent enforcement against NVIDIA was far simpler.  As detailed in this May 6, 2022, Press Release and the related SEC Order, NVIDIA Corporation failed to disclose the causal factors behind material increases in revenues in 2018.  This disclosure failure resulted in a $5,500,000 penalty.

The foundation for this case is in Regulation S-K Item 303, language that was formerly part of Financial Release 36 (No. 33-6835) and Financial Release 72 (No. 33-8350):

Where the financial statements reflect material changes from period-to-period in one or more line items, including where material changes within a line item offset one another, describe the underlying reasons for these material changes in quantitative and qualitative terms.

This disclosure, which is one of the main objectives of MD&A as articulated in S-K Item 303 and Financial Release 72, is to provide material information to help readers “ascertain that past performance is indicative of future performance.”

As you can read in the SEC Order, NVIDIA, which sells powerful computer chips know as graphics processing units (or GPUs), generated material increases in revenue in 2018.  Specifically, gaming GPU revenue increased 52% and 25% for the second and third quarters of 2018, respectively.  Company management knew that a significant part of this increase was because cryptominers were buying gaming chips, even though the company had built a separate product line for these customers.  The company was also aware that cryptomining is a very volatile business.

In its Form 10-Q for the second and third quarters for 2018, NVIDIA did not disclose that cryptomining was a significant factor in gaming revenue growth.

Not disclosing this information meant that investors did not have necessary information to “ascertain that past performance is indicative of future performance.”

The SEC Order also focuses on NVIDIA’s failure to maintain effective disclosure controls and procedures.

The CorpFin review process has consistently emphasized the requirement to disclose qualitative and quantitative information about the causal factors behind financial statement changes.  The voice of the Enforcement Division is now reinforcing this message: failure to disclose material information about causal factors behind financial statement changes can result in significant penalties.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!