Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Sox and smelly feet

Remember the Sarbanes Oxley Act ? The one that was promulgated in the aftermath of Enron. This was supposed to ensure that accounting scandals are greatly minimised. The Act that had every business chief howling that it was draconian , that compliance was putting a huge cost on business, etc etc. Well, it turns out that investors, whom the Act was supposed to protect, actually don't care all that much about accounting scandals.

Take the case of the "success" of many of the Chinese IPOs in the US market. In the fine print , most of them have disclosed accounting deficiencies. But does the market care ?? Not one bit. Take Renren which IPOed yesterday. The stock rose some 50% above the issue price. Never mind that the Chair of the Audit Committee resigned on Tuesday, they changed a key growth figure, they disclosed a "material weakness" that they did not have enough people in their accounts department and a "significant deficiency" that they had no policy on the treasury function and investment of cash.

Material weakness and accounting deficiency are Ramamritham speak. The former means the accounts are definitely wrong. The latter means that it is most probably wrong.

And yet investors seem to care two hoots. These days anything with a China name will sell like crazy. Even if they presented their accounts in Chinese and qualified it by saying that they just made it up to satisfy a legal formality.

Even the famed General Motors IPO showed a material weakness in the accounts. Didn't come in the way of its much touted success.

I am sure that the Public Companies Accounting Oversight Board ( what other name can you expect Ramamritham to dream of), that was supposed to regulate auditors under the Sarbanes Oxley Act has done enough research to prove that disclosures of accounting weaknesses have had a positive correlation to the share price and therefore they should be considered as having done great benevolence to the human race. It is probably true - the research finding that is. But as long as cases like Renren exist, its hard to take Sarbanes Oxley seriously.

Sure Sox, does reveal smelly feet. But if gorgeous blondes find smelly feet sexy, there's not much that can be done about it.

Disclosure : This blogger has made merry with the aforesaid Act; making a fair bit of money for his company from it. His opinions are therefore completely biased.

Material Weakness : This post is utterly without research, written on a whim and totally opinionated.