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Going concerns fall in 2015, but not due to better financials

Tammy Whitehouse | January 6, 2017

Going concern filings appear to have tapered off in 2015, but that doesn’t necessarily mean public company balance sheets are getting healthier.

The latest analysis by Audit Analytics suggests fewer companies filed their financial statements in 2015 carrying a warning from auditors that there’s reason to doubt whether the company can remain in business as a going concern. The reduced number, however, is explained more by companies leaving capital markets than by any improvement in companies’ financial positions, the firm says in its report.

The analysis is based on filings completed through Aug. 4, 2016, of 2015 financial statements. About 93 percent of all financial statements for listed companies had been filed by that date, Audit Analytics says. Based on that data, the firm projects the final number of going concern filings should land at 2,016; of that number, 495 companies that did not get the going concern condition attached to their financial statements the year before.

Those numbers are better than the year before, consistent with a steady pattern of decline since going concern findings peaked with the financial crisis in 2007 and 2008. When all filings are tallied, Audit Analytics says 15 percent of audit opinions issued in 2015 will contain the going concern qualifier, down from 21 percent in 2008.

The continued downward pattern might seem like a healthy indicator, Audit Analytics points out, until digging a little deeper into what happened to public companies in the most recent year and what became of those in the going concern population.

For example, the number of new going concern opinions fell by 214 from the prior year, but 156 companies filed terminations with the SEC after disclosing the going concern qualifier in 2014, the firm says. An additional 494 companies left the population of listed companies without filing a termination, the report says, suggesting most of the decline in the most recent year is due to attrition.

Fiscal 2015 produced the fewest number of companies that improved their financial position enough to lose the going concern qualifier in a subsequent year, Audit Analytics says. Only 123 companies that earned the going concern mark in 2014 were able to file clean audit opinions in 2015, the firm says, the lowest number since 2000.

Filings in 2016 will reflect a new standard for management to do its own going concern assessment, independent of the auditor's assessment. The Financial Accounting Standards Board established a new requirement in 2014 taking effect with 2016 year-end financial statements. Concerns were expressed that the standards were not entirely aligned, but the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board took no action to change auditing standards as the effective date for the accounting standard took effect.