The story and the numbers

IT IS fashionable to lament the vapidity and short-termism of institutional shareholders. Without them, it is argued, companies would invest for the long term, run by their enlightened managers. But a rash of creative-accounting incidents is a reminder that firms may go astray. On October 26th Valeant Pharmaceuticals, a drugs company, tried to rebut claims it was massaging its figures. A day later IBM said regulators were investigating how it books its sales. Tesco, a British grocer, is on the rack after admitting inflating its profits. Shares in Noble Group, a Singapore-listed commodities firm accused of questionable book-keeping, have collapsed. In May Hong Kong’s regulators suspended trading in Hanergy, a solar-panel firm. These episodes have had a brutal impact on shareholder wealth, with a total loss of $80 billion.

The last outbreak of outright book-cooking was in 2001-03 when Enron, MCI-WorldCom and Parmalat were found to be engaged in fraud. Together they had $170 billion of assets and all went bankrupt. So far, today’s scandals are different: the firms are accused not of breaking the law but of creative accounting, or stretching the rules...

via Business Feeds

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