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Conflicts of interest in Financial Reporting

Published December 20, 2013 by Mayrbear's Lair

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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).

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Analyzing an Income Statement

Published December 6, 2013 by Mayrbear's Lair

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The goal of analyzing an income statement is to determine whether a company is operating effectively and making a profit.  Alvarez and Fridson (2011) suggest that to achieve this objective, the analyst must draw their conclusions by comparing the information from an earlier period as well as from examining statements of other companies in the industry. This helps give a better picture as to how well an organization is performing and how well they measure in terms of their competition (Alvarez & Fridson, 2011). To help us understand the concepts more effectively, we can examine the data provided from the Elf Corporation’s Income statement (see Exhibit A) to ascertain whether the figures reveal overall if they had better sales in 2010 than in 2008. For example, the statement shows that their sales figures increased 18% in 2009 from the 2008 figures and jumped another 8% in 2010. This means the company showed a total sales increase of 27% during that three year period. In the meantime, the cost of goods sold reflects the same percentage increases during that period. This indicates that the sales increase resulted from the amount of units sold, not due to a higher cost of goods. In addition, the statement shows that they decreased their advertising expenses. In 2008 for instance, the company invested 14% of their revenue to advertising costs that decreased to 11% in 2009 and dropped down to 7% in 2010. This may suggest that their brand may have become more recognizable and management decided to reduce advertising costs to maximize profit margins. The statement also exhibits that there was no change in the amount of expenses that were allocated for administrative costs which remained the same rate during that three year period. However, administrative costs expose a 4% decrease over that time because of the rising sales levels.

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Fraser and Ormiston (2010) explain that a company’s operating profit margin measures the overall performance of the company’s operations and provides the basis for determining the success of a firm (Fraser & Ormiston, 2010). The Elf Corporation’s income statement for instance, indicates a steady increase during that three year period with respect to their operating profits. This signals an increase from 18% of the company’s sales revenue in 2008 to 29% in 2010. This ratio suggests that the company experienced a steady strengthening in their returns. Other expenses incurred where interest amounts paid on the firm’s debts. For example, in 2008, the company paid 5% in interest expenses which rose to 8% in 2009 and 10% in 2010. This means that as profits rose, more funds were available for debt commitments. In addition, the statement also shows that the revenue the company collected before income taxes also reflected a steady increase during that three year period. For instance, in 2010 Elf’s earnings revealed an increase of 24% from that of 2008. Finally, the last item on the income statement shows the company’s bottom line, their earnings or the net income they profited after all revenue and expenses were deducted. These figures indicate a steady increase that began at 6% in 2008 and rose to 9% by 2010. My brief analysis of the Elf Corporation’s income statement concluded that the company continued to show a steady increase in profit from the 2008 to 2010 accounting period.

Exhibit A

Elf Corporation Income Statements for the Years Ending December 31

ELF

References:

Alvarez, F., & Fridson, M. (2011). Financial statement analysis: A practioner’s guide. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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

 

Income Statements

Published December 4, 2013 by Mayrbear's Lair

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Corporations exist for the benefit of their shareholders. Comprehending financial statements is an essential skill that can help investors and creditors make more effective decisions with respect to investment management and commercial lending. Alvarez and Fridson (2011) explain that because corporate financial statements are difficult to understand strategists must have a comprehensive knowledge of how to read the data that is contained within these financial statements. The objective of these reports is not to educate the public about a firm’s financial situation. Their goal rather, is to maximize the wealth of their shareholders. In other words, financial statements serve to help leaders develop more effective methods to maximize shareholder wealth while reducing the cost (or interest rate) at which they can borrow and in turn, sell shares of stock at higher rates to generate more wealth for the shareholders (Alvarez & Fridson, 2011). In short, the main objective of financial reports is to help corporations acquire inexpensive capital.

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Financial report Income statements provide a picture that helps analysts determine a company’s profitability. Ittelson (2009) postulates that in order to understand the information that is contained within these statements the reader must first have a better understanding of the item terms they contain. For instance, the terms sales and revenue are identified as the income statement’s top line and are used to measure the capital a company receives from their consumers. The terms profitsearnings, and income on the other hand, are used to measure the company’s bottom line and reflects the amount of capital that is left over as revenue after expenses are deducted. Simply put, revenue is the top line of the income statement while income is considered the bottom line (Ittelson, 2009). Understanding the these terms more clearly can help make it easier for individuals to extract information that is pertinent to them.

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Sales, in the meantime, are considered a major source of revenue for a firm and income statements are utilized to provide analysts a means to measure and assess a company’s operating performance because they help paint a better picture of a firm’s earnings. Fraser and Ormiston (2010) explain for instance, that earnings on income statements provide data for several years. This allows strategists to observe and compare changes and trends that occur over a given period of time (Fraser & Ormiston, 2010). For example, there are two significant causes that can effect changes in sales numbers: (a) price increases and (b) liquidity of sales units. When a company’s sales increase for instance, analysts must determine whether the change occurred due to price increases, volume activity changes, or a combination of both. In other words, strategists use this information to determine whether sales figures are increasing due to price hikes, the movement or liquidity of large volumes of units, or whether it resulted from of a combination of both factors. Generally, as a rule, higher earnings result from moving large units of stock. Another reason could be that higher prices were implemented to keep up with the expanding rates of inflation. Sales figures can also become affected by a cost flow assumption that some accountants used to value inventory. For example, some companies use the last-in, first-out (LIFO) method to report sales and inventory. This strategy allows the last purchases a company makes during the year appear as an expense on their income statements and is reflected on the statement to show higher-quality production earnings. Because of these kinds of strategies, income statements must be assessed accurately to help analysts determine the true picture of the revenue, expenses, and earnings of an organization with an awareness of the imperfections of the accounting system implemented by the manipulation of bookkeepers intended on distorting a firm’s economic reality to impress potential investors.

References:

Alvarez, F., & Fridson, M. (2011). Financial statement analysis: A practioner’s guide. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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

Ittelson, T. (2009). Financial statements: A step-by-step guide. Amazon Digital Services, Inc.

Understanding the Balance Sheet

Published November 25, 2013 by Mayrbear's Lair

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Making investments in a company’s stock is a significant event in an individual’s life because an uninformed decision can become quite costly. To make the most informed decisions, individuals should conduct extensive research to help them make choices they feel secure about. To achieve this, many people can look to a company’s annual report for more insight into their financial condition. Roth (2008) explains that a company’s financial statements contained within their annual report are a significant asset to help individuals who are looking to make a sound investment in a company’s stock. They help people make better assessments by learning about a company’s strategies, financial health, and even information about their behavioral and moral values (Roth, 2008).  For this blog post, we will address our fictitious friend Liz who is confused about the true state of the Target Corporation’s financial condition (See Exhibit A below). This is a brand she is considering investing in because of her emotional attachment to it. However, the figures her buddy Tom disclosed upon reviewing their balance sheet suggested that investing in Target was not a sound idea because of the substantial percentage amount (74%) they invested of their total assets as risky obligations. Tom’s percentage rate caused Liz confusion because her calculations arrived at a different figure which was lower and amounted to 65%.

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To help Liz with her confusion, we must explain how Tom arrived at his position. First, let’s analyze how Liz calculated her figures. For example, at the end of their fiscal year in February, 2008, the Target Corporation had liabilities (including current and long-term) that rounded off to about $29 million, while their asset totals came to about $45 million. To help Liz better understand these debt structure figures, she looked to a common-size balance sheet formula to translate these numbers into percentages. By taking the $29 million liabilities figure and dividing it by the $45 million asset figures, Liz came up with 65% as amount of debt Target has accrued. Tom, however, arrived at a figure that was nearly 10% higher which confused Liz because her math equations incontrovertibly added up.

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What Liz did not take into consideration in her calculations, however, were the company’s commitments and contingencies contained within the notes of the report.  Fraser and Ormiston (2010) suggest that even though the balance sheet may not reflect a dollar amount in this category, this disclosure is intended to draw attention to the information that is located in the notes of the financial statements. These notes are significant because they list the commitments of a company’s contractual obligations that may still have an adverse effect on their financial outlook. Because companies engage in complicated financial reporting procedures that include such things as product financing, sales of receivables with recourse, limited partnerships and joint-ventures, that are not required to be included on the balance sheets, they are however, provided in the notes (Fraser & Ormiston, 2010). These are complicated components that are difficult to comprehend but play an important role in painting a full picture of the company’s operations. In other words, there are other factors that are not reported on a company’s balance sheet with unpredictable outcomes that can have an effect on Target’s future liabilities. In other words, Liz also needed to include in her calculations the figures provided in the commitments and contingency notes as well. These notes revealed for instance, that Target also had further contractual obligations and operating leases that extended beyond the year 2008 which included lease payments of $1,721 million with options that could extend the terms of the lease. Their contractual obligation payments also consisted of interest rates and a $98 million commitment in legally binding lease payments for the planned openings of future facilities that were scheduled to occur in 2008 or later. Tom arrived at his additional 10% figure because he factored in the information of these provisions to his equations and Liz did not.

Exhibit A

Target Example

References:

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

Roth, R. (2008). The writers guide to annual reports. Atlanta, GA: Booksurge.com.

The Balance Sheet

Published November 22, 2013 by Mayrbear's Lair

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What is a Balance Sheet?

Balance sheets are financial statements contained within a company’s annual report. The information provided on a balance sheet reveals what a company owns, how much it owes and what remains in the form of equity for its shareholders. Skonieczny (2012) explains that a company’s balance sheet discloses their financial position on a particular day like the end of the year or the first quarter and are based on the following important equation:

assets = liabilities + equity

The reason it is called a balance sheet is due to the fact that the accounting equation has to balance out at all times (Skonieczny, 2012). This means that the assets must always be an equal amount that reflects the companies liabilities and equity. In other words, all possessions (assets) are either owned free and clear (equity) and were purchased by acquiring debt (liabilities). For example, a down payment on a company building is an example of equity, while the monthly payments are an example of debt. The information provided on a balance sheet is comprised of the company’s: (a) assets, including current assets, long and short term investments, property, plant and equipment, plus any other tangible and intangible assets; (b) liabilities such as accounts payable, salaries, interest and taxes paid, bank notes, loans, mortgage obligations and other debts; and (c) stockholder’s equity including capital stock and retained earnings.

BALANCE-SHEET

What is a common sized balance sheet?

Makoujy (2010) asserts that an expense occurs when value is lost and that balance sheets help strategists understand not only what a company possesses during a certain period of time, but how much it has grown or lost during that time (Makoujy, 2010). In the meantime, common-size balance sheets are helpful instruments that allow companies to assess their financial situation. Fraser and Ormiston (2010) explain that a common-size balance sheet specifically serves as a tool designed for vertical ratio analysis as a means of measuring and comparing various components that have a common denominator (Fraser & Ormiston, 2010). In other words, it is a kind of balance sheet that shows each dollar amount as a percentage of a common number. This allows analysts to compare account sizes over time as the balance sheet grows and the figures change. They are also effective for identifying and observing trends.

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How to create a common sized balance sheet?

To create a common-sized balance sheet, analysts must convert each asset, liability, and shareholders’ account to a percentage amount so that the balance sheet reflects that the total assets are equal to the total liabilities and shareholders’ equity figures. To create a common-sized balance sheet the amount of total assets must be determined first, like $100,000 for instance. Next the amount of each asset is divided by the amount of total assets. Then each result amount is multiplied by 100 to establish the common-size percentage for each asset. If the company’s cash account, for example, is $30,000, you would divide $30,000 by $100,000 to obtain a figure of 0.3. You would then multiply that 0.3 figure by 100 to arrive at 30% as the common-size percentage for the cash account. In other words, the company’s cash account makes up 30% of the total assets. The same formula is applied to determine the percentage amounts of the company’s liabilities and shareholders’ equity which amount should total the $100,000 figure to balance out the total assets.

Monday’s post will focus on understanding how investors use the information on a balance sheet to determine whether a company would make a good investment. Until then … have a great weekend everyone!

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References:

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

Makoujy, R. (2010). How to read a balance sheet: The bottom line. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Skonieczny, M. (2012). The basics of understanding financial statements. Schaumburg, IL: Investment Publishing.

 

The Annual Report

Published November 13, 2013 by Mayrbear's Lair

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Today begins our six week adventure navigating through topics that will help us understand how business owners can make the most effective the financial decisions that help them run their companies more efficiently with higher profits. Dr. Felix Lao (2013) explains that:

“The measurement of accounting information is critical to the owners of the business to make judgments about the value of assets or liabilities owed by the business. It accurately measures profit or loss made by the business in a particular period. Shareholders can make decisions and evaluate about the future of an organization by looking at past and current financial data. It helps management actually manage the operation by looking at functional units as well as overall performance and effectiveness to plan. The information provides critical tools that reveal an accurate and true view of the financial position of the company to ensure that risks are adequately and appropriately taken and the resources are invested well.”

To give us a better understanding of the financial condition of a company, my research work will take a closer examination of the extensive financial information that is contained within a firm’s financial tome known as their Annual Report. Take for example a company like Target that does a fabulous job selling products to customers.  A good number of consumers are so pleased with this corporation’s performance in fact, that many consider buying shares in the company’s stock.

To find out more about their financial situation investors will look to their annual reports to help them determine how well the company is performing.  Unfortunately, more questions arise regarding the content of these reports because most individuals are not trained in deducing the information they contain to help them comprehend the true nature of the company’s financial health.  Technical questions about the firm’s financial condition and performance cannot easily be addressed unless the key elements in the annual report are understood. Investors must acknowledge that in order to figure out how well a company is doing they must look to the company’s financial statements because those are the documents that can provide details that address the following information: (a) where a company’s money came from, (b) how it was spent, and (c) where it currently stands.

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Typically, there are four kinds of financial statements in a company’s annual report: (a) the balance sheets that disclose what a company owns and owe, (b) the income statements that reveal incoming revenue and outgoing expenditures, (c) the cash flow statements which show the exchange of currency transactions, and (d) the statements of shareholders’ equity which reveal the changes in shareholder interests (Beginners guide to financial statements, 2007). Individuals who can comprehend the information these statements contain are in a better position to understand the company’s financial condition.

The financial statements in a company’s annual report are useful for many reasons. For example, Fraser and Ormiston (2010) explain that they not only reveal how well the firm is performing, they also show whether or not it is providing opportunities for growth and future advancements  (Fraser & Ormiston, 2010). The enormous volume of information in these reports can  be intimating to the untrained eye. To help with an overview of the most important aspects, each report contains a 10-K form which serves as a summary that highlight the report’s key components.

Smart investors will look to the contents of the firm’s annual report to help paint a clear picture of what a company is doing, what it claimed it was going to do, what it actually did, and most significantly, what it intends to do next. Roth (2008) also points out that annual reports are significantly more important in today’s economy because they have become a platform for which organizations use to expand their investments, launch new products, create more effective marketing strategies, address behavioral or morale issues, and can even alter a company’s strategic direction (Roth, 2008).  In other words, the information provided in them are beneficial to investors and creditors whose interpretation of the contents contained within these reports can help them assess the firm’s viability.

References:

Beginners guide to financial statements. (2007, February 5). Retrieved October 28, 2013, from U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission: http://www.sec.gov/investor/pubs/begfinstmtguide.htm

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

Lao, F. (2013). Ashford University. Clinton, IA.

Roth, R. (2008). The writers guide to annual reports. Atlanta, GA: Booksurge.com.