Problemi Contabili a IBM ? - Gzibordi
By: GZ on Venerdì 15 Febbraio 2002 15:45
non ho tempo di riassumerlo ma basta
il titolo, che parla di IBM e problemi contabili
il fatto che è scritto da GRETCHEN MORGENSON ed è sulla prima pagina del NY Times
============ dal New York Times di oggi ===============================
February 15, 2002
As It Beat Profit Forecast, I.B.M. Said Little About Sale of a Unit
By GRETCHEN MORGENSON
I.B.M. (news/quote) announced in mid-January that it had beat Wall Street's profit forecasts in the fourth quarter, it did not disclose that the sale of a business had generated $300 million that the company used to lower its operating costs.
The company did not provide details of the transaction to investors or account for it as a one-time gain, as is the practice. Instead, I.B.M., during a conference call about fourth-quarter earnings, said that its profits had grown — even as revenue in most categories had declined — because of increased productivity and higher sales of certain products.
To be sure, I.B.M. has not filed its fourth- quarter and annual financial statements with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which the company does not have to do until March. Its scant disclosure of the sale was made in comments in a conference call with analysts and investors, not in a federal filing. But the S.E.C. has recently begun cracking down on companies that have incomplete or misleading disclosures, even in their press releases.
One-time gains like I.B.M.'s are supposed to be identified as nonrecurring charges. Using them to offset expenses does not create a fair representation of the company's operations, accounting experts said. As is its policy, the S.E.C does not comment on questions about specific companies or their practices.
A spokeswoman for I.B.M., Carol Makovich, said the company was justified in using the gain from the transaction to offset sales, general and administrative expenses because those are a part of I.B.M.'s business, and buying and selling assets is also a part of its business.
"We considered this transaction as the ordinary course of business," Ms. Makovich said. "This is not an unusual practice. Our auditors have reviewed it and approved it."
The S.E.C. has written guidelines in recent years to address this accounting issue, and it is not known how many other companies, if any, might be using the practice.
Lynn Turner, a former chief accountant of the Securities and Exchange Commission who is now director of the center for quality financial reporting at Colorado State University, said: "Staff Accounting Bulletin 101 is very clear that gains from the sale of assets have to be in the `other income' line. And Staff Accounting Bulletin 99 also makes it clear that when you intentionally violate accounting guidelines, any amount is material."
The bulletins are S.E.C. guidelines that companies are required to follow. Companies that do not, could be asked to restate their results or face enforcement actions.
The transaction that generated $300 million for I.B.M. came just as a dismal quarter was ending. By the time the books were closed on the fourth quarter of 2001, the company had recorded revenues that were $900 million lower than a year earlier and $1 billion below what Wall Street had expected.
Still, I.B.M.'s profits beat Wall Street's estimates for the quarter by the all-important penny a share.
It was the type of performance that Wall Street had come to expect from Louis V. Gerstner Jr., I.B.M.'s chief executive, who will step down on March 1. I.B.M. has met or exceeded quarterly earnings estimates since the end of 1997, according to Thomson Financial/First Call.
Though a company's ability to beat Wall Street expectations was applauded by investors during the bull market, the Enron (news/quote) collapse has heightened concern about how companies make their numbers. Investors are now looking at financial reports and press releases from companies much more closely.
As a result, some investors had begun to wonder whether I.B.M.'s quiet sale of its optical transceiver business to JDS Uniphase (news/quote) on Dec. 28, the last Friday in 2001, was intended to help the company over the earnings bar. JDS agreed to pay I.B.M. $340 million in shares and cash, a price that is nearly five times the business's sales.
On Jan. 17, when I.B.M. announced its fourth-quarter results, there was no disclosure about the amount generated by the sale or the company's accounting of it.
The only mention of the sale was an oblique reference in its conference call with analysts that day to discuss quarterly results. "Our intellectual property income and licensing royalties were flat in the quarter, which included the sale of our optical transceiver business to JDS Uniphase," John Joyce, I.B.M.'s chief financial officer, said in a statement at the conference call.
During the conference call, Mr. Joyce explained that earnings grew in the face of declining revenue because certain areas of strength offset those weaknesses.
In the fourth quarter, the company recorded business improvements in one of its mainframe offerings, one of its servers and software, Mr. Joyce said. Increases in productivity also were a factor, the company said.
For a company as big as I.B.M. — it recorded almost $86 billion in sales last year — $300 million may not seem like much. But by using that gain to offset its expenses, and taking into account the company's tax rate, the sale could have bolstered the company's earnings by as much as 12 cents a share, according to a technology analyst. Such a gain would have represented 9 percent of I.B.M.'s per-share earnings in the fourth quarter.
Ms. Makovich, the company spokeswoman, said, "I.B.M. is a very large company, and when you are evaluating our company you need to look at many, many factors."
Robert A. Olstein, manager of the Olstein Financial Alert Fund, said that he had considered buying I.B.M.'s stock in recent years but stayed away because the company's earnings appeared to be engineered more than generated. "Mr. Gerstner did a great job turning the company around when he came in," Mr. Olstein said, "but basically they've had a series of what I call `lower quality of earnings sources' to meet analysts' earnings estimates."
The lack of disclosure about the sale was disturbing to Jack Ciesielski, editor of The Analyst's Accounting Observer. "How can they not discuss it?" he asked. "The problem I have is, they're not telling you it didn't affect earnings and they're not telling you it did. So what are you to presume except the worst?"
Lewis D. Lowenfels, a lawyer who specializes in securities law at Tolins & Lowenfels in New York, said, "Prior to Enron, executives could justify limited disclosure based upon intricate and technical accounting rules.
"But in the post-Enron era," Mr. Lowenfels said, "the focus will be more upon the overall test for materiality, which is whether the information would be important to a reasonable investor."
Edited by - gzibordi on 2/15/2002 14:47:55