Wednesday, March 26, 2008

New Century's Improper Accounting

by Tanta on 3/26/2008 06:47:00 PM

Apparently, the accounting firms never learn. From Vikas Bajaj in the NYT:

In a sweeping accusation against one of the country’s largest accounting firms, an investigator released a report on Wednesday that said “improper and imprudent practices” by a once high-flying mortgage company were condoned and enabled by its auditors.

KPMG, one of the Big Four accounting firms, endorsed a move by New Century Financial, a failed mortgage company, to change its accounting practices in a way that allowed the lender to report a profit, rather than a loss, at the height of the housing boom, an independent report commissioned by a division of the Justice Department concluded. . . .

The 580-page report documents how New Century lowered its reserves for loans that investors were forcing it to buy back even as such repurchases were surging. Had it not changed its accounting, the company would have reported a loss rather a profit in the second half of 2006. The company first acknowledged that its accounting was wrong in February 2007 and sought bankruptcy protection less than two months later as its lenders stopped doing business with it.

The profit was important because it allowed executives to earn bonuses and convince Wall Street that it was in fine shape financially when in fact its business was coming apart, the report contended. But the report stopped short of saying that the company “engaged in earnings management or manipulation, although its accounting irregularities almost always resulted in increased earnings. . . .

“I saw e-mails from the engaged partner saying we are at the risk of being replaced,” Mr. Missal said in a telephone interview about a KPMG partner assigned to work on the audit of New Century. “They acquiesced overly to the client which in the post-Enron era seems mind-boggling.”
I have to say I have, really, no desire to read a 580-page report on this subject. But doesn't that seem like a lot of report to find one problem--under-reserving for repurchases that doesn't rise to the level of earnings management or manipulation?

(hat tip, sk)