Fraser

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Conflicts of interest in Financial Reporting

Published December 20, 2013 by Mayrbear's Lair

managing-coi

Conflicts of interest exist between management and capital market participants because shareholders are interested in the economic reality of a firm’s transactions and managers are under pressure to report information that will satisfy them. Berman and Knight (2008) inform us that handling the company’s finances is both an art and a science (Berman & Knight, 2008). While firms are encouraged to follow the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) parameters in their bookkeeping procedures, conflicts of interest can affect the quality and reality of their reports. Miller (2002) asserts that some firms believe Quality Financial Reporting (QFR) offers stockholders more certainty; others argue it reveals too much information to competitors (Miller, 2002).

red_flags

The following scenarios can help illustrate how conflicts of interest between management and shareholders can alter a firm’s economic reality by the quality of their reports. Fraser and Ormiston (2010) suggest that red flags are raised immediately when a cash statement reveals significant changes that show a decrease in accounts receivable (A/R) and an increase in cash from operating activities (Fraser & Ormiston, 2010). This could result from a strategy some managers used under duress to inflate CFO figures by selling A/R for cash to appease shareholders. Conflicts of interest can also affect accounting procedures that may occur at a natural gas company, for instance, that utilizes fracking practices. Because of the demand to find alternative gas resources, this industry is banking on the lower rates they offer consumers and managers are under pressure to provide data that supports the enterprise is profitable while environmentally safe. If for example, management has knowledge the industry is not environmentally safe, in an effort to maintain operations, they may use incomplete reporting tactics to shield this data as long as they can along with any other questionable investing activities that could reveal unethical practices such as funds diverted to falsify results. One method shareholders can use to verify the firm’s claims is to scrutinize the outflows of the investment activities and review the notes for clues. Managers want to achieve desired outcomes and shareholders want to hear a company is financially healthy. Because of this component, it presents opportunities for conflicts of interest to develop that can affect the quality of reports that will alter a firm’s economic reality.

Due to the winter holidays, there will be no new posts for the next few weeks. Look for a new blog post Monday, January 6 where I take a closer look at what Annual Report financial ratios reveal.

Thank you for tuning in everyone! Wishing you all a very beautiful winter holiday season.

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References:

Berman, K., & Knight, J. (2008). Financial intelligence for entrepreneurs. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Fraser, L., & Ormiston, A. (2010). Understanding financial statements. Pearson Education.

Miller, P. (2002, April). Quality Financial Reporting. Retrieved November 25, 2013, from Journal of Accountancy: http://www.journalofaccountancy.com/Issues/2002/Apr/QualityFinancialReporting.htm

The Quality of Financial Information

Published December 19, 2013 by Mayrbear's Lair

financial-reporting

The holidays are creeping up on us and I just realized, I neglected to post Wednesday’s blog. This post is significant to my research work in financial analysis because it helps us understand that in order to keep apprised of how well a company is doing, the quality of financial reporting is the key component that determines whether the statements paint an accurate portrait of the firm or not. For example, because of scandals that occurred from companies like ENRON, AEI, and WorldCom, a revolution occurred with respect to financial reporting. According to Bahnson and Miller (2002) old practices and habitual thought processes with respect to accounting principles were put aside and replaced with new strategies and systems. As a result, accountants and finance executives are expected to embark on a different path that embraces a new shift in the bookkeeping paradigm called quality financial reporting (QFR). For financial managers to consider investing in a company they are looking for accurate information about two significant components: (1) opportunities to receive future cash flows, and (2) information about those opportunities (Bahnson & Miller, 2002). QFR provides complete information to investors and creditors to give them confidence in a company’s performance abilities. Much of the information provided on financial statements can be intimidating to many managers and entrepreneurs. This is a typical response from those who lack the financial intelligence required that can help them make more effective decisions in running their firms. Berman and Knight (2008) explain that the figures on financial statements help strategists determine a variety of estimates and assumptions. Learning how to assess that information helps planners to identify the bias of the data provided, in one direction or another (Berman & Knight, 2008). In this context, where financial results are considered, bias merely suggests that the numbers may be skewed in a certain direction. In other words, bookkeepers and finance professionals are trained to use certain assumptions and estimates rather than others who view the reports for other purposes. QFR is essential because it provides sufficient information to identify not only the source of those gains, but whether there are any other events or circumstances that could have an effect out the outcome, like pending litigation.

toomuchinformation

Much of the information provided on financial statements can be intimidating to many managers and entrepreneurs. This is a typical response from those who lack the financial intelligence required that can help them make more effective decisions in running their firms. QFR is effective at painting an accurate view of the company’s financial condition. For example, revenue should not be recognized until there is evidence that a sale has transpired. In other words, the recipient has received delivery of the product or completion of the services rendered and revenue is collected. Many companies, however, violate this policy and report revenue prematurely without all criteria being met. Analysts can look for clues of false revenue reporting in the financial reports. For instance, the notes can reveal the company’s position with respect to collecting revenue policies to ascertain whether any changes occurred and determine the reason for the changes as well as the impact they can have.  Another clue is an analysis of the financial statements to determine the pattern of movement from sales, inventory, and accounts payable. For example, spikes in revenue during the final quarter may be a sign of revenue reported prematurely unless there is a specified reason for the spike to generate sales (like an end of the year close-out sale to liquidate inventory). Companies do not commonly experience spikes from sales in the fourth-quarter so this immediately raises flags. Other methods companies use to raise revenue levels include keeping the account records open longer at the end of the allotted accounting period. Some corporations on the other hand, use deceptive tactics like reporting gross sales rather than net to show higher revenue. For example, a company that is acting as an agent for another organization may collect their revenue in the form of a commission. According to regulations set forth by the GAAP (generally accepted accounting practices), agents are not considered the owner of merchandise being moved. Fraser and Ormiston (2010) explain that the GAAP requires the reporting of Gross Revenue for Principal Owners and Net Revenue for those who act as a representative in the in the sale of a product or service.  In other words, because agents are not considered the owners or originators of the product who assume the risk of the merchandise, the company acting as the agency can use the net method for recording revenue. Therefore knowing that a company collects revenue as an agency analysts can scrutinize the data closely to determine whether they reported gross or net revenue.

accounttrans

QFR is also important because it can help strategists understand the various inventory valuation methods. For instance, there are times when companies produce lower or higher earnings due to the fluctuation of inflation. Analysts again must look to the financial notes to determine the details of the company’s accounting policies to disclose whether the changes in revenue occurred due to LIFO (last in first out) or FIFO (first in first out) inventory cost flow accounting assumptions. If the value of the products sold, for example, falls under its original cost, the product is written down to reflect the market value and is determined by the cost to replace or produce an equivalent. This means that write downs can also play a part in the company’s profit margins which affects the comparability and quality of financial reporting. Accounting practices that do not provide details and incorporate misleading information is considered an unacceptable practice and any CEO that signs off on documentation that provides a misrepresentation of the truth is putting their career at risk and may face dire consequences as a result. That should be incentive enough to engage in QFR. To surmise, QFR provides investors the ratios that reveal whether companies are able to buy inventory and pay their bills. Furthermore, they provide profitability ratios that help creditors understand how much capital the company is generating while efficiency ratios reveal how well the company is managing their assets. The more complete these reports are the more likely they are to reduce shareholder uncertainty. In the eyes of investors and creditors, certainty reduces risk and reduced risk, provides shareholders with the satisfaction of a lower rate of return. In the long run, a lower rate of return means a lower cost for capital, which ultimately produces a higher stock price for the company. In conclusion, providing quality financial information is an essential component to management that contributes to a company’s long term success.  Tomorrow’s blog will post on schedule and will take a look at how different conflicts of interest can effect quality reporting.

References:

Bahnson, P., & Miller, P. (2002). Quality financial reporting. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Berman, K., & Knight, J. (2008). Financial intelligence for entrepreneurs. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Fraser, L., & Ormiston, A. (2010). Understanding financial statements. Pearson Education.