A running back in the National Football League operates under the singular premise that while he may not know where the next hit is going to come, he only knows that it will.
In 2003 I suppose we can say the same about accounting scandals. Many in the profession are wary of the next Enron-esque type scenario, but the truth is that 2003 will not be devoid of the scoundrels who, as the police are fond of saying, "perpetrate and abet" financial fraud — no matter what documents are handed down from Capitol Hill.
Yes, we now have legislation in the form of Sarbanes-Oxley that’s supposed to curb corporate fraud. And as it’s been repeated ad nauseum the bill is a step in the right direction.
But first, a much-needed reality check.
The recent decision to lower the legal limits for drunk driving may make mom and pop think about having that second beer at TGI Friday’s, but what effect will it have on habitual drinkers?
Some have likened it to Sarbanes-Oxley and the all-too-familiar pattern of an accounting implosion.
With companies like Enron, Tyco, Adelphia, and ImClone as reference points, fraud scandals follow a certain sequence.
More often than not, the first harbinger that something may be amiss comes in the form of financial restatements going back several years.
Suddenly, shareholders, who had been reaping profits from Company X and watching their portfolios swell like blowfish are looking at a restated earnings per share with a whole lotta parentheses.
Then, Company X suddenly becomes the subject of an "informal" probe by federal regulators, which the company, by way of cheery press releases informs everyone that they’re "cooperating fully" with the investigation.
That is, until the dreaded AI acronym surfaces – "Accounting Irregularities." Then the feds launch a far more official investigation, which reveals Company’s X’s balance sheet was anything but balanced and has been cooked more than a twice-baked potato.
By now it really turns ugly with finger pointing and eventual prosecution.
Not exactly a quaint postcard is it?
Since laws were first hammered out on stone tablets, we have often painfully discovered you can’t legislate human nature.
In truth, while last year was indeed a bitter one for the profession, a few silver linings could be found among the clusters of Cumulonimbus clouds. Investors are better educated and no doubt will read annual reports with a more than healthy dose of skepticism.
But like a running back skittering through a jammed secondary, the profession should be prepared to take some hits in 2003. No 66-page document is going to give them a clear ride to the end zone.
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