Investor confidence in auditors and in capital markets in general fell in 2018, according to the annual poll by the Center for Audit Quality.
In an August survey of some 1,100 “Main Street” or average investors, 81 percent said they have confidence in public company auditors to act as protectors of investor interests, down from 84 percent in 2017. The hit to confidence in capital markets broadly was bigger, down 11 percentage points from 85 percent in 2017 to 74 percent in the late summer 2018 poll.
Also dipping from 2017, confidence in U.S. public companies tapered 5 percentage points to 78 percent, and confidence in their audited financial statements fell from 78 percent in 2017 to 75 percent in 2018. The only metric reflecting increased confidence in the CAQ poll highlights is confidence in capital markets outside the United States, where 56 percent said they have confidence, up 2 percentage points from the year before.
Where confidence has taken a hit, investors attribute it primarily to a lack of leadership in the presidential administration and concerns about a trade war or the status of free trade agreements, the poll said. Investors also expressed concerns about a lack of leadership in Congress and general worries about volatility in the U.S. stock market.
While the numbers overall slid from the year before, CAQ Executive Director Cindy Fornelli still is encouraged by the results. “The public company auditing profession works hard each day to build investor confidence,” she said in a statement. “We are pleased to see that a strong majority of investors view independent auditors as effective parts of the system of investor protection.”
Breaking investors down by age group, the poll found confidence tends to be greatest among younger investors, with those under age 30 reporting the strongest indications of confidence. Male investors generally reported higher levels of confidence than female investors, as did Republicans relative to Democrats. The data reflect no significant differences among investors of different income categories.
Once a barely noticed profession before Enron and Sarbanes-Oxley, auditors have come under fire the past few decades amid accounting scandals and the financial crisis. The CAQ began in 2007 polling investors about their confidence in auditors, a few years after enactment of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act that ushered in a regulatory regime over the auditing profession.