How Financial Report Readers Can Detect Problems In Overstated Assets

Investors can watch for these liabilities by understanding the business and carefully reading a company’sfootnotes, which contain information about these obligations. Lenders for example, regularly account for uncollected debts incurred through defaults and often discuss this area when earnings reports are released. Well written post, I found this post through a google search when trying to get other perspectives on applicable risks to the accounts receivable process. I appreciated the very straightforward comprehensive, but precise focus on the subject. I am working on improving various audit programs I utilize and how I structure work papers and this article helps me understand relevant risks and areas of consideration for accounts receivable. In addition, I made a -$25.3 billion adjustment for income tax distortion.

The gross profit ratio can also be helpful if it is seen to fall unexpectedly or to be far below industry expectations. This means net revenues may be falling or extremely low because of excessive inventory expensing. Other red flags can include inventory increasing faster than sales, decreases ininventory turnover, inventory rising faster than total assets, and rising cost of sales as a percentage of sales. Any unusual variations in these figures can be indicative of potentialinventory accountingfraud. Companies that manipulate their balance sheet are often seeking to increase their net income earnings power in order to create the appearance of a stronger financial condition or stronger management performance. After all, financially sound companies can more easily obtainlines of creditatlow interest rates, as well as more easily issuedebt financingor issue bonds on better terms. Companies may also be looking to overstate their overall asset position to potential creditors.

Unearned revenue is a liability for the recipient of the payment, so the initial entry is a debit to the cash account and a credit to the unearned revenue account. As a company earns the revenue, it reduces the balance in the unearned revenue account and increases the balance in the revenue account . The unearned revenue account is usually classified as a current liability on the balance sheet. If ABC has a marginal income tax rate of 30%, this means that ABC must now pay an additional $150 ($500 extra income x 30% tax rate) in income taxes. Undervaluing liabilities is a second way to manipulate financial statement reporting from the balance sheet. Any understatement of a company’s expenses can be beneficial in boosting bottom line profits. This is also a violation of the matching principle, since revenues are being recognized at once, while related expenses are not being recognized until later periods.

overstated revenue

This chapter examines one of the most common goals of unscrupulous managers—overstating profits relative to the underlying reality. The chapter addresses cases that range from aggressive reporting to outright fraud . The chapter presents real cases of companies that have been accused, but not necessarily ascertained guilty, of manipulating their reported results and provides techniques and warning signs to detect this type of activity. Overstating assets and/or understating liabilities leads to increased net income on the income statement. And finally, it’s time to determine your substantive procedures in light of your identified risks. If controls weaknesses exist, we create audit procedures to respond to them. For example, if—during the walkthrough—we see inconsistent allowance methods, we will perform more substantive work to prove the allowance balances.

Inventory Obsolescence Income Statement Classification

After removing Earnings Distortion, which totals -$2.14/share, or -629% of GAAP EPS, I find that AT&T’s 1Q21 TTM Core Earnings of $1.80/share are significantly higher than GAAP earnings of -$0.34/share. Harold Averkamp has worked as a university accounting instructor, accountant, and consultant for more than 25 years. Is a quick example of an adjusted entry made to the general ledger after a physical count of inventory corrected an inventory discrepancy.

  • Investors can detect overvalued inventory by looking for telling trends like large spikes in inventory values.
  • Core Earnings for the S&P 500 fell from a peak of $1.3 trillion in 2Q19 to $1.1 trillion in 4Q20 before rebounding to $1.2 trillion in 1Q21.
  • Inventory accounting is the body of accounting that deals with valuing and accounting for changes in inventoried assets.
  • Any unusual variations in these figures can be indicative of potentialinventory accountingfraud.
  • The five classifications of financial statement schemes are fictitious revenues, timing differences, improper asset valuations, concealed liabilities and expenses, and improper disclosures.

In some cases, financial misstatements are due to errors or incomplete information. However, when executives deliberately manage earnings to meet a desired goal, their actions may be considered unethical or even fraudulent.

Ending income may be overstated deliberately, when management wants to report unusually high profits, possibly to meet investor expectations, meet a bonus target, or exceed a loan requirement. Remember, we have an external expectation of materiality as we saw in the introduction to this section, looking at Ernst & Young, LLP accounting firm’s opinion on the Alphabet, Inc. financial statements. For Alphabet, the numbers on the balance sheet are rounded to the nearest million. A $100,000 error may not be material if it won’t affect the reported numbers. Accounts receivablehave a direct link to revenues on the income statement. Companies that use accrual accounting can book revenue in accounts receivable as soon as a sale is made. Thus, the processing of accounts receivable can be one high risk area for premature or fabricated revenues.

Module 4: Completing The Accounting Cycle

For example,warrantyobligations or anticipated litigation losses may be considered contingent liabilities. Companies can creatively account for these liabilities by underestimating them or downplaying their materiality. Overall, a company’s balance sheet ratios are an important factor in performance assessment by all types of stakeholders and creatively improving them through balance sheet manipulation can have many advantages.

In this chapter, we explore techniques used by companies to overstate earnings and present some warning signs (so-called “red flags”) that may alert you to potential problems. In some cases, companies will play games that do not overstate bottom-line earnings but overstate revenues or some subtotal of earnings such as gross margin or operating margin. In short, the $500 ending inventory overstatement is directly translated into a reduction of the cost of goods sold in the same amount. Getty Images Understanding Earnings Distortion, the difference between Core Earnings and GAAP earnings, gives investors a materially better view of the fundamentals and valuations of stocks. Below, I feature the firms and sectors with the most Earnings Distortion, both overstated and understated GAAP earnings, in the S&P 500. Fictitious revenues and timing differences are two of five classifications of common financial statement schemes. Ownership in non-transparent entities can raise red flags for off-balance sheet items that may be disguised within subsidiaries rather than fully integrated in a company’s bottom line results.

overstated revenue

A variation on the revenue recognition approach noted in the preceding example is to recognize unearned revenue when there is evidence of actual usage. For example, Western Plowing might have instead elected to recognize the unearned revenue based on the assumption that it will plow for ABC 20 times over the course of the winter. Thus, if it plows five times during the first month of the winter, it could reasonably justify recognizing 25% of the unearned revenue (calculated as 5/20). This approach can be more precise than straight line recognition, but it relies upon the accuracy of the baseline number of units that are expected to be consumed . In a double-entry accounting system, if the balance in the account Prepaid Insurance is overstated it is likely that the account Insurance Expense is understated .

Why Boost The Balance Sheet?

As a result, overstating any inventory values could lead to an overstated cost of goods sold, which can reduce the revenue earned per unit. Some companies may look to overstate inventory to inflate their balance sheet assets for the potential use of collateral if they are in need of debt financing. Typically, it is a best practice to buy inventory at the lowest possible cost in order to reap the greatest profit from a sale. The balance sheet, income statement, and cash flow statement are foundational to the financial reporting of any company. Enron, WorldCom, and Lehman Brothers are some of the top known cases of fraud but there are others. If you overstate sales or understate expenses, you’ll pay more income tax than necessary. To understand why, you must be familiar with how an income statement works.

It is good practice to routinely run checks to catch errors and create the necessary journal adjusting entries. Additionally, I thoroughly test management’s allowance computation.

overstated revenue

Fraudulently increasing net income can create the illusion of better performance, both by the company and management. I am the author of The Little Book of Local Government Fraud Prevention, Preparation of Financial Statements & Compilation Engagements, The Why and How of Auditing, and Audit Risk Assessment Made Easy. For example, the allowance for uncollectible is normally a high risk area for healthcare entities, but may not be so for other industries.

As noted in Chapter 1, both investors and creditors are interested in the level of profits of a company. The higher the earnings or profit, the more can be returned to investors and creditors or invested for the future.

Asian Financial Statement Analysis: Detecting Financial Irregularities By Chinhwee Tan, Thomas R Robinson, Howard Schilit

Moreover, the audit standards state there is a presumption that revenues are overstated. Therefore, we are to assume revenues are overstated, unless we can explain why they are not. Audit standards require that auditors review estimates for management bias. So, consider the current year allowance and bad debt write-offs in light of the prior year allowance. This retrospective review allows the auditor to see if the current estimate is fair. The threat is that management might reduce allowances to inflate earnings. So, it’s important that each business generate sales or some type of revenue.

Net realizable value is the value of an asset that can be realized upon its sale, minus a reasonable estimation of the costs involved in selling it. For the last thirty years, I have primarily audited governments, nonprofits, and small businesses.

For example, one telecommunications company might sell bundled services while another may not. Revenue recognition is more complex for the company selling bundled services.


If a company overstates assets or understates liabilities it will result in an overstated net income, which carries over to the balance sheet as retained earnings and therefore inflates shareholders’ equity. Shareholders’ equity is used in several key ratios that may be assessed by financial stakeholders when evaluating a company as well as for maintaining current financing arrangements such as credit lines. Some of these ratios may include debt to equity, total assets to equity, and total liabilities to equity. Comprehensively, shareholders’ equity is also used in the calculation of return on equity , which is central to evaluating the overall balance sheet performance of a company as well as the performance of management. Public companies can be a better universe for the sourcing of investments for everyday retail investors because of the regulations that have been instituted by the Securities Exchange Commission.