The risk of getting a red flag from auditors questioning the company’s ability to continue as a going concern appears to have fallen for another year from a peak in 2008.
According to the latest data from Audit Analytics, the number of audit opinions that included a question from auditors regarding whether the company could remain in business another year appears to have fallen in 2014 from 2013. The latest report provides complete data on 2014 going concern qualifiers through mid-July 2015 when 97 percent of all filings had been submitted, then extrapolates the remainder of the data based on historical results.
Based on this estimation, the research firm says 2014 going concern opinions finished out at 2,233 among all public companies, a drop from 2,403 the prior year and 3,335 at the peak in 2008. The expected number of new going concern findings in 2014 inched up, however, to 530 from the 15-year low of 508 in 2013.
“An initial review of the data seems to provide positive news, but a deeper analysis reveals a mixed bag of indicators,” says Don Whalen, director of research at Audit Analytics. The results suggest most of the decrease in going concern filings can be attributed to attrition from the prior year’s going concern opinions, he says, or companies who delisted after getting the going concern qualifier from auditors in 2013.
It should be considered encouraging that roughly half of the new going concerns filed in 2014 were disclosed to investors in Forms S-1 or F-1, indicating they were tied to initial public offerings, not established companies, says Whalen. “A new going concern linked to a recent IPO should not necessarily be viewed as a negative economic event,” he says.
Beginning with 2016 financial statements, companies will have to follow a new accounting standard that requires management, not auditors, to make the initial assessment of whether a company should raise a going concern alert to investors. The Financial Accounting Standards Board adopted Accounting Standards Update No. 2014-15 to give management the responsibility to perform an assessment and alert investors if it was appropriate to do so.
The rules for auditors, however, have not changed. Auditors will be required both to audit management’s compliance with the new GAAP standard and to follow their own historical standard on performing their own assessment. Some experts say the disclosure threshold between the two standards is not the same, leading to questions about how it will be applied in practice and whether it might produce fewer going concern alerts to investors.
The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board has issued an alert to auditors to stay the course in following auditing standards and has opened a project to reconsider its existing auditing standard in light of the new accounting standard. The board has indicated in its latest standard setting agenda that it will issue a staff consultation paper in the first half of 2016. That time line has been pushed out each time the board has updated its agenda over the past several quarters.