Both the raw number and the percentage of companies getting a red flag from the auditor questioning the company’s viability in 2013 are expected to diminish when final figures are available, but that doesn’t necessarily mean public companies are healthier.
A recent analysis of audit opinion that carry the going-concern warning—where auditors indicate they have doubts about the company’s ability to remain a going concern—shows the final number of such opinions for 2013 is expected to decline to 2,384 from 2,532 opinions filed in 2012. That will represent the sixth year of steady decline from a high of 3,354 going-concern opinions filed in 2008.
The analysis estimates the final number of opinions for 2013 based on the filing patterns of 2012 through early July. By that point, more than 90 percent of going-concern opinions had been filed, but opinions can trickle in later in the year. The percentage of companies drawing the red flag also is diminished, to 16.6 percent in 2013 from 17.5 percent in 2012 and a high of 21.1 percent in 2008.
“The initial results appear positive because they show a drop in both the number and percentage of going concerns,” says Don Whalen, director of research for Audit Analytics. Taking a closer look, however, the firm finds the decrease can be attributed to attrition, or companies disclosing a going concern for fiscal year 2012 that later stopped filing financial information with the SEC.
Despite the attrition, the report contains some positive indicators of corporate fiscal health, says Whalen. The number of new going-concern opinions, meaning companies who were getting the red flag in 2013 but did not report it in 2012, is estimated at 505, the lowest number seen in the 13 years that Audit Analytics has been tracking going concerns, he says. In addition, nearly 60 percent of those new going-concern opinions are going to companies that only recently went public, so not long established companies, he says. “A new going concern linked to a recent IPO should not be viewed as a negative economic event,” he says.
Another positive indicator, he says, is the number of companies that got a going-concern warning in 2012, but then filed clean financial statements in 2013. That number is projected to rise to 183 from a final number of 144 the prior year, the report shows. Although it is in an increase, it’s the second lowest number the firm has reported since 2000, says Whalen.
The rules around raising the going-concern flag for investors changed in 2014, with public companies facing a requirement to assess for themselves if there’s reason to doubt the company’s viability and warn investors if there’s reason for concern, rather than relying on auditors to perform the analysis alone. The Financial Accounting Standards Board adopted an update to accounting standards to put the traditional audit duty onto management’s plate, with the new rule taking effect in 2017.