Category: Accounting and Auditing
SEC Chief Accountant has advice for audit committees on lead auditors’ use of other auditors
In this new statement, SEC Chief Accountant Paul Munter—no longer “acting” Chief, he got the job—discusses some of the issues arising out of the increased use by lead auditors of other accounting firms and individual accountants (referred to as “other auditors”) on many issuer audit engagements. While, in this context, much of the responsibility falls on the lead auditors, audit committees also have an important oversight role, and Munter has some useful advice for audit committee members.
SEC charges DXC with misleading non-GAAP disclosures and absence of non-GAAP disclosure controls
The SEC has announced settled charges against DXC Technology Company, a multi-national information technology company, for making misleading disclosures about its non-GAAP financial performance in multiple reporting periods from 2018 until early 2020. According to the Order, DXC materially increased its reported non-GAAP net income “by negligently misclassifying tens of millions of dollars of expenses ” as non-GAAP adjustments related to strategic transactions and integration and improperly excluding them from its reported non-GAAP earnings. In addition to misclassification, DXC allegedly failed to accurately describe the scope of the expenses included in the company’s non-GAAP adjustment, with the result that “its non-GAAP net income and non-GAAP diluted EPS in periodic reports and earnings releases were materially misleading.” What’s more, the SEC alleged, DXC did not have a non-GAAP policy or adequate disclosure controls and procedures in place specific to its non-GAAP financial measures. Consequently, DXC “negligently failed to evaluate the company’s non-GAAP disclosures adequately.” DXC agreed to pay a civil penalty of $8 million. According to the SEC’s Associate Director of Enforcement, “[i]ssuers that choose to report non-GAAP financial metrics must accurately describe those metrics in their public disclosures….As the order finds, DXC’s informal procedures and controls were not up to the task, and, as a result, investors were repeatedly misled about its non-GAAP financial performance.”
SEC posts NYSE and Nasdaq proposals for clawback listing standards
It was just November last year when the SEC finally adopted rules to implement Section 954 of Dodd-Frank, the clawback provision. (Remember that Dodd-Frank dates to 2010 and the clawback rules were initially proposed by the SEC back in 2015.) The new rules directed the national securities exchanges to establish listing standards requiring listed issuers to adopt and comply with clawback policies and to provide disclosure about their policies and implementation. Under the rules, the clawback policy must provide that, in the event the listed issuer is required to prepare an accounting restatement—including a “little r” restatement—the issuer must recover the incentive-based compensation that was erroneously paid to its current or former executive officers based on the misstated financial reporting measure. (See this PubCo post.) The final rules required any covered exchanges to file proposed listing standards with the SEC no later than February 27, with the listing standards to be effective no later than one year after publication. On Tuesday, the SEC posted the listing standards proposed by Nasdaq and by the NYSE. They’re largely the same, with some differences, both tracking the SEC requirements closely. Both proposals are open for comment until 21 days after publication in the Federal Register.
Be on the alert for California’s Climate Corporate Data Accountability bill
If you’re waiting with bated breath to find out what the SEC has in store for public companies in its final version of its climate disclosure regulations (see this PubCo post, this PubCo post and this PubCo post), you might also want to take a look at this California bill—the Climate Corporate Data Accountability Act (SB 253)—previously known as the Climate Corporate Accountability Act when it went belly up last year after sailing through one chamber of the legislature but coming up shy in the second (see this PubCo post). In fact, this year, the press release announces, the bill is part of California’s Climate Accountability Package, a “suite of bills that work together to improve transparency, standardize disclosures, align public investments with climate goals, and raise the bar on corporate action to address the climate crisis. At a time when rising anti-science sentiment is driving strong pushback against responsible business practices like risk disclosure and ESG investing,” the press release continues, “these bills leverage the power of California’s market to continue the state’s long tradition of setting the gold standard on environmental protection for the nation and the world.” If signed into law this time, the bill, which was introduced at the end of January and has a hearing scheduled in March, would mandate disclosure of GHG emissions data—Scopes 1, 2 and 3—by all U.S. business entities with total annual revenues in excess of a billion dollars that “do business in California.” The bill’s mandate would exceed, in several key respects, the requirements in the current SEC climate proposal. Whether this new bill will face the same fate as its predecessor remains to be seen.
SEC brings settled charges against Roadrunner—no, not the cartoon character—for accounting fraud
Here’s another earnings management case from SEC Enforcement, this time against Roadrunner Transportation Systems, Inc., a shipping and logistics company formerly traded on the NYSE, involving a veritable pu pu platter of alleged financial manipulations. As charged in the SEC’s Order, from July 2013 through January 2017, the company engaged in an “accounting fraud scheme by manipulating its financial reports to hit prior earnings guidance and analyst projections.” Among other things, Roadrunner was alleged to have improperly deferred and stretched out expenses over multiple quarters to minimize their impact on earnings, failed to write down worthless assets and uncollectable receivables, and manipulated earnout liabilities related to its numerous acquisitions. The company agreed to pay disgorgement of just over $7 million, with prejudgment interest of approximately $2.5 million—except that the company paid nothing additional: the penalties were deemed satisfied by the settlement payment the company made in connection with prior private securities litigation.
SEC Enforcement’s “EPS Initiative” chalks up another one
Last week, the SEC announced settled charges against Gentex Corporation, a manufacturer of digital vision, connected car, dimmable glass and fire protection products, and its former Chief Accounting Officer and current CFO, Kevin Nash, related to financial reporting, books-and-records and internal accounting controls violations. Allegedly, these violations were the consequence of deficiencies in the company’s accounting practices for its bonus programs, which practices allowed the company to manage its earnings by adjusting its accruals for bonuses to ensure that publicly reported EPS was in line with consensus EPS estimates—without the required accounting analysis or adequate supporting documentation. According to the SEC, had the company not reduced the accrual for bonuses, it “would have missed consensus EPS estimates by one penny.” Gentex was ordered to pay a civil money penalty of $4 million and Nash to pay $75,000. These charges represent yet another case resulting from SEC Enforcement’s “Earnings-Per-Share Initiative,” which applies risk-based data analytics to detect potential violations from earnings management, among other things.
Corp Fin issues new CDIs regarding the clawback rules
In October last year, the SEC adopted a new clawback rule, Exchange Act Rule 10D-1, which directed the national securities exchanges to establish listing standards requiring listed issuers to adopt and comply with a clawback policy and to provide disclosure about the policy and its implementation. The clawback policy must provide that, in the event the listed issuer is required to prepare an accounting restatement—including not only a “reissuance,” or “Big R,” restatement (which involves a material error and an 8-K), but also a “revision” or “little r” restatement—the issuer must recover the incentive-based compensation that was erroneously paid to its current or former executive officers based on the misstated financial reporting measure. (See this PubCo post.) Now, the Corp Fin staff has issued some new CDIs, summarized below, providing guidance about the timing of the new required disclosure, which officers of foreign private issuers are subject to the disclosure rule and plans subject to the clawback.
Will companies need to provide more detailed country-by-country tax disclosure?
The topic of taxes—corporate, presidential and otherwise—seems to be trending these days, with calls for greater transparency coming from investors, analysts and others, including speakers at the SEC’s Investor Advisory Committee. They contend that some corporate tax practices may give rise to financial, legal and reputational risks that would be material for investors to understand. Currently, however, financial statements are required to include disclosure of the total taxes paid, but are not required to break out the amounts by country or state. Consequently, investors and analysts say that they do not have sufficient visibility to understand the impact on companies of changes in tax laws or the tax environment in different jurisdictions or to otherwise evaluate companies’ exposure to tax risks.
PCAOB gains “unprecedented access” to inspect audit firms in China
You might recall that, for well over a decade, the PCAOB has been unable to fulfill its SOX mandate to inspect audit firms in “Non-Cooperating Jurisdictions,” including China. Years of negotiation failed to resolve the deadlock over audit inspections and, in 2020, the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act amended SOX to prohibit trading on U.S. exchanges of public reporting companies audited by audit firms located in foreign jurisdictions that the PCAOB has been unable to inspect for three sequential years. (See this PubCo post.) According to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, as of March 31, 2022, Chinese companies listed on the three largest U.S. exchanges had a total market capitalization of $1.4 trillion. (See this PubCo post.) As a result, the trading prohibitions of the HFCAA were poised to have a substantial impact. After passage of the HFCAA, more negotiations ensued, and, in August, the PCAOB took an initial step by signing a Statement of Protocol with the China Securities Regulatory Commission and the Ministry of Finance of the People’s Republic of China governing inspections and investigations of audit firms based in China and Hong Kong. (See this PubCo post.) But that was viewed as just an opening; as SEC Chair Gary Gensler phrased it, the “proof will be in the pudding. While important, this framework is merely a step in the process. This agreement will be meaningful only if the PCAOB actually can inspect and investigate completely audit firms in China. If it cannot, roughly 200 China-based issuers will face prohibitions on trading of their securities in the U.S. if they continue to use those audit firms.” To the surprise of many, last week, the PCAOB announced that it had secured unprecedented access to conduct these inspections. According to PCAOB Chair Erica Williams, for “the first time in history, the PCAOB has secured complete access to inspect and investigate registered public accounting firms headquartered in mainland China and Hong Kong. And this morning the Board voted to vacate the previous determinations to the contrary. This historic and unprecedented access was only possible because of the leverage Congress created by passing the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act. Congress sent a clear message with that legislation that access to U.S. capital markets is a privilege and not a right, and China received that message loud and clear. Investors are more protected today because of Congress’ leadership….” However, she added, she wanted “to be clear: this is the beginning of our work to inspect and investigate firms in China, not the end. The PCAOB is continuing to demand complete access in mainland China and Hong Kong moving forward. Our teams are already making plans to resume regular inspections in early 2023 and beyond, as well as continuing to pursue investigations.” What is the impact? To remove, at least for now, the immediate peril of delisting from U.S. exchanges that was threatening many U.S.-listed China-based companies.
Corp Fin posts revised and new non-GAAP CDIs
The Corp Fin staff has issued a group of revised and new compliance & disclosure interpretations on the use of non-GAAP financial measures. The CDIs are more detailed and expansive in describing disclosure that the staff considers to be misleading as well as presentations that the staff believes reflect excessive non-GAAP prominence over the comparable GAAP number under Reg S-K Item 10(e). Summaries are below.
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