Investor Skepticism and Creative Accounting: The Case of a French SME Listed on Alternext

By Demerens, Frédéric; Paré, Jean-Louis et al. | International Journal of Business, Winter 2013 | Go to article overview
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Investor Skepticism and Creative Accounting: The Case of a French SME Listed on Alternext


Demerens, Frédéric, Paré, Jean-Louis, Redis, Jean, International Journal of Business


ABSTRACT

The enhancement of auditors' professional skepticism remains an issue for the improvement of fraud detection in financial statements. However, all watchdogs, including investors, must increase their skepticism. This research project studies a real company and illustrates the implementation of an ex-ante approach to detecting different operations for managing accounting data. An attentive reading and analysis of the financial documents disclosed by an SME recently listed on the French stock exchange enables us to presuppose and identify certain accounting data management operations. Erroneous revenue recognition, transfers of current expenses to future periods, overvaluation of assets and undervaluation of liabilities are the main operations identified. These operations considerably modify corporate financial indicators. We question why no investor watchdog has yet barked. Specific determinants and changing contexts encourage the use of accounting data management techniques. The multiplication of standards and rules alone is not sufficient to put a stop to such practices. Ex-ante detection and suspicion must be enhanced by investors because the usual watchdogs are not always efficient.

JEL Classifications: G17, G19, G32

Keywords: financial analysis; listed company; SME; financial manipulations; creative accounting; investor skepticism

I. INTRODUCTION

At a time when the accountancy environment has become much more complex because of the introduction of International Financial and Reporting Standards (IFRS) and accountancy rules are becoming increasingly flexible, financial manipulations designed to concoct more positive financial statements are frequently observed among listed companies. According to the 2005 "Global Economic Survey" produced by Price Waterhouse Coopers, the number of firms reporting fraud is increasing rapidly, and the number of restatements of financial statements increased to 1,195 cases in 2005 (8.5% of U.S. publicly traded companies). Thus, investors must be vigilant of potential accounting manipulations that could threaten their investments. Similar to any other watchdog, investors must be skeptical. In this paper, we will apply a revised definition of a skeptical investor by using the financial statements of a public firm. The skeptical investor, unlike the auditor, will not be able to demand confirmations. The investor arrives at his or her judgment only by analyzing the public information that is disclosed by the firm. Our research question investigates whether skepticism can lead an investor to have presumptive doubts about a firm's financial statements and to make drastic financial restatements.

We adapt the concept of auditors' professional skepticism, as defined by regulators and academics, to the investor. Using the determinants presented by Nelson (2009), we focus on knowledge. We apply a skeptical approach regarding financial statements to a real company that has not yet been charged for financial statement fraud. This "live case" addresses a French services company that is listed on Alternext and has financial statements that seem, from a skeptical point of view, to have been manipulated. Using the available knowledge of financial shenanigans and accounting manipulations, accounting and auditing standards, the company's business model and its financial impact, we conduct a deeper analysis of the economic, legal and financial information that has been disclosed by the company over several years.

We find that skepticism based mainly on knowledge determinants leads to presumptive doubts and drastic financial restatements. Erroneous recognition of income, transfers of current expenses to future periods, overvalued assets and undervalued liabilities are the main "potential" accounting manipulations identified for the company. These operations considerably modify corporate financial indicators.

The contributions of the paper are twofold. First, our paper presents an original application of investor skepticism to a real "live case", which reveals ex-ante presumptive doubt about potential accounting manipulations.

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Investor Skepticism and Creative Accounting: The Case of a French SME Listed on Alternext
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