The Great Corporate Earnings Fraud

If you can’t make the numbers work, just fake the numbers and call them “adjusted”. So when a corporate CEO opens 50 retail stores that turn out to be dogs and is eventually forced to close the stores and fire 10,000 employees, they just call those one time charges and ignore the $50 million loss when reporting the results. Heads the CEO wins, tails the shareholders lose. Wall Street reports a beat, and the clueless investors believe the lies. It’s all fun and games until the next financial crisis hits, recession sweeps across the land, and the fraud, deception, and lies are revealed.

Even the billionaire oligarch crony capitalist Warren Buffett addressed this despicably flagrant flaunting of basic accounting principles to mislead shareholders in his annual letter last week:

It has become common for managers to tell their owners to ignore certain expense items that are all too real. “Stock-based compensation” is the most egregious example. The very name says it all: “compensation.” If compensation isn’t an expense, what is it? And, if real and recurring expenses don’t belong in the calculation of earnings, where in the world do they belong?

Wall Street analysts often play their part in this charade, too, parroting the phony, compensation-ignoring “earnings” figures fed them by managements. Maybe the offending analysts don’t know any better. Or maybe they fear losing “access” to management. Or maybe they are cynical, telling themselves that since everyone else is playing the game, why shouldn’t they go along with it. Whatever their reasoning, these analysts are guilty of propagating misleading numbers that can deceive investors…. When CEOs or investment bankers tout pre-depreciation figures such as EBITDA as a valuation guide, watch their noses lengthen while they speak.

Buffett’s words are borne out in the chart below. Based on fake reported earnings per share, the profits of the S&P 500 mega-corporations were essentially flat between 2014 and 2015. Using real GAAP results, earnings per share plunged by 12.7%, the largest decline since the memorable year of 2008. Despite persistent inquiry it is virtually impossible for a Wall Street outsider to gain access to the actual GAAP net income numbers for all S&P 500 companies. With almost $500 billion of shares bought back in 2015, the true decline in earnings is closer to 15%.

The increasing desperation of corporate CEOs is clear, as accounting gimmicks and attempts to manipulate earnings in 2015 has resulted in the 2nd largest discrepancy between reported results and GAAP results in history, only surpassed in 2008. The gaping 25% fissure between fantasy and reality means the S&P 500 PE ratio is actually 21.2 and not the falsified 16.5 propagated by Wall Street and their CNBC mouthpieces. True S&P 500 earnings are the lowest since 2010. Corporate profits only decline at this rate in the midst of recessions.

View single page >> |

Disclosure: None.

How did you like this article? Let us know so we can better customize your reading experience. Users' ratings are only visible to themselves.

Comments

Leave a comment to automatically be entered into our contest to win a free Echo Show.