A rise in restatements among accelerated filers coupled with increased accounting enforcement actions at the Securities and Exchange Commission are causing a spike in securities class actions involving accounting allegations.
A recent report from Cornerstone Research says securities class action filings changed little overall from 2013 to 2014, but cases involving allegations of accounting improprieties jumped sharply from 47 in 2013 to 69 the following year. More than one in four accounting case filings made a direct reference to an SEC inquiry or action, the report says, the highest incidence in five years. Accounting allegations involving restatements increased both in number and as a percentage of total accounting actions to the highest level in seven years.
“The SEC has increased its focus on financial reporting issues and fraud issues,” says Laura Simmons, senior adviser at Cornerstone. “We had been expecting to see that it would then lead to an increases in securities class actions involve these issues. Finally, this year we see that come to fruition.”
In addition to SEC action, however, Cornerstone also points to an increase in restatements among accelerated filers. Data from Audit Analytics shows while restatements overall have held steady in recent years, restatements among accelerated filers have inched upward from 2011 to 2013. If the increase in the incidence isn’t enough, Cornerstone says investors also exhibited a more negative reaction to restatements in 2014, punishing the stock price for companies restating more severely than the year before. “This larger market reaction surrounding restatement announcements could lead to increased filings of restatement class actions,” says Simmons. “It also means there could be larger losses.”
The report also notes an increased number of accounting cases involve disputes over internal controls over financial reporting. The number of cases alleging internal control weaknesses has risen steadily from 2012 through 2014, the report says, with 60 percent of cases filed in 2014 making such claims. The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board has raised significant concern over the quality of internal control auditing in recent years with increased findings in its inspection reports and a call to auditors to improve their work.