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Four negatives and two affirmatives
August, 24th 2006
Those reading the Bard's plays, with an accounting frame of mind, may find that there are fewer instances of `negative' than `positive' tucked among the thousands of lines of comedies, tragedies, histories and poetry. One of the only two occurrences of `negative' happens `impudently' in The Winter's Tale; and the other `negative' is spotted in plural with `conclusions to be as kisses,' in Twelfth Night, where the Clown says, "If one were not to count if your four negatives make your two affirmatives why then, the worse for my friends and the better for my foes." Not too differently, negatives outnumber positives for accountants, much to the glee, perhaps, of all foes of bean counters. Take, for instance, the day's report on http://business.guardian.co.uk, showing top in `accounting' news, at the time of writing. Headlined `Guardian seeks lifting of iSoft gagging order as accounting controversy escalates,' the story by Simon Bowers and Richard Wray is that "concern is mounting about iSoft's Lorenzo software, a centrepiece of the NHS's 6.2 billion nationwide software upgrade, being developed at the firm's base in Chennai in India." NHS, as you may be aware, is short for the National Health Service of the UK, set up in July 1948 `to provide healthcare for all citizens, based on need, not the ability to pay'. The story goes back by two years, when the Guardian spoke to `two sources' and saw `documents which raised a number of serious concerns relating to iSoft's accounting treatments in 2004'. When questioned, however, the company had told the newspaper that all was in order. As if that were not enough, the company also hired a law firm `to try to prevent the Guardian publishing information gleaned from these documents,' under the threat of breach of confidence and defamation action. However, this month saw iSoft confirming that something was amiss. And that Deloitte, appointed as iSoft's auditors in May 2005, `found evidence that revenues had been wrongly booked in accounts for the year to April 30, 2005, and the previous year'. Reason, as Bowers and Wray write: "Last month iSoft said its business had `evolved' and it had become `more appropriate' to revise the way the company recognised its revenues." Not signs of evolving language in accounting, these are, but disquieting signs of trouble. Such as what `consultancy firms Accenture and CSC, iSoft's partners on three big NHS contracts,' found in `a review of the software in February'. But for `a basic version of Lorenzo tailored for GPs (general practitioners)', there were `no believable plans for releases,' the review had said, informs the Guardian. "The review said iSoft's release date targets `must be viewed as `indicative' at best and are likely to be highly optimistic'." An exposed underbelly, shall we say, of software, made worse by accounting woes? Let's move on to the second negative `First Data to restate earnings for 2 years on accounting change,' reads a headline on www.nytimes.com. It may be worth restating that First Data is not the first company to restate accounts. The change is aimed at reflecting `current US regulations on hedging and derivatives transactions,' informs http://today.reuters.com. That the interpretations of the accounting regulator FASB's rulings on hedge accounting are `complex and continuing to evolve' and that the company has decided to "utilise current interpretations going forward ... in order to minimise earnings volatility," are food for lingo-watchers' thought. A third negative story, all in a day, is on www.financialdirector.co.uk, where Alex Hawkes of Accountancy Age writes, "Cambridge University and other leading academic institutions have labelled accounting a soft option at A-Level." It may be hard to digest that "accounting is one of 21 subjects listed, of which Cambridge advises students should only take one, and concentrate instead on at least two `academic' subjects." The fourth negative is actually older the scandalous backdating of stock options that allowed executives in many US companies `to pocket unfair and potentially illegal profits,' as http://news.moneycentral.msn.com notes in an article dated August 21. `Not here,' you may like to shrug off; but there are reports in the media alerting that Indian companies could well have staged a similar fraud, taking advantage of a loophole in law. To wrap, here are two affirmatives, for a positive finish. The first is sighted on www.theglobeandmail.com: That "a third of Canadian chief financial officers say they are more confident in the accuracy of their companies' financial reporting than they were three years ago." And the second positive is that accountants are being increasingly trusted! How so? "A recent Harris Interactive poll of 1,002 adults in the US found that 85 per cent would trust their doctors to tell them the truth, up from 77 per cent in 2002, the last time the survey was conducted," says AccountingWeb in a posting dated August 23. "Accountants made the most significant gains in the ranks of professionals most trusted by the public, with 68 per cent of the respondents saying they would trust their accountants, compared with 55 per cent in 2002." It seems "teachers, police officers, professors and scientists also made the top ranks of trusted professions," while "stockbrokers, lawyers and actors ranked at the bottom of the list, with less than 30 per cent of those questioned saying they would trust them to tell the truth." Bizarrely, the poll found that two occupations showed the most dramatic drop. These were: "The President (a decrease of 17 percentage points, from 65 per cent in 2002, to 48 per cent) and public opinion pollsters (a drop of 10 points, to 34 per cent)." What a pity that the very same poll that gave accountants nice scores also found that pollsters aren't trusted! Yet, as Elbert Hubbard says, `Positive anything is better than negative nothing.' D. Murali
 
 
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