Wednesday, May 13, 2009

PriceWatergate's Waterloo?

In 1994, an accounting fiasco exploded at Kidder Peabody (KP). Joseph Jett (JJ), my 12 September 2007 post, link: JJ supposedly perpetrated a fraud, mispricing $22 billion of KP's Treasury paper by $335 million, singlehandedly. KP's case against JJ was preposterous. The moronic SEC should have realized that instantly. It didn't. Any more than it realized Bernie Madoff was perpetrating a fraud.

Thinking about the AIG-Fed-Goldman Sachs (GSG) fiasco made me realize it and "le affair Jett" had a common accounting issue: improper revenue recognition. One would have hoped a Big 87654 firm like PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) would have learned something from Big 87654 firm KPMG's failures at KP. One would have.

JJ recognized the difference between a T-bill's cost and maturity value at purchase instead of amortizing it over the T-bill's life, clearly improper. However, KP adopted this accounting method before JJ's employment. Neither KP's nor GE's internal auditors ever questioned this nor did KP's controller's office. KPMG never objected.

Let's look at AIG's credit default swap (CDS) business. How could it have made a profit? Suppose on day 1, 20-year Treasury paper yields 4% and 20-year Fortune 500 Inc. (F500) paper yields 6%. How much should AIG charge for a 20-year CDS on 20-year F500 paper? Assuming the market is smart, and Eugene Fama groupies always assume it is, the interest difference between Treasury and F500 paper is 2% (6% - 4%) a year for 20 years. Discounting 2% a year at 6%, the F500 interest rate, I get 23.26% of par as the fair value of such CDS. If AIG charged less than 23.26% of par, AIG must have thought F500 was a better credit than the market thought it was. Alternatively, AIG gave say GSG, the CDS purchaser, a gift, or AIG was too stupid to know what it was doing. Since PWC was on the AIG and GSG sides of this transaction I now ask: did PWC ever consider this? Or is this type of analysis beyond PWC's intellectual capabilities? Or did GSG tell PWC about this and to "shut up". Did the PCAOB note that PWC audited AIG and GSG and tell it to drop one client?

PWC should not have let AIG recognize any income from its CDS business. I commented on PWC's finding a "material weakness" at AIG with respect to CDS accounting on 20 February 2008, link: The more I think about AIG's CDS business, the more I conclude PWC either: did not know what it was doing, bad; or knew exactly what it was doing, worse. PWC, fool or knave, you decide.

What should the Obamites do now? Have POTUS Obama give JJ a presidential pardon. Next fire Tim Geithner and install JJ as SecTreas. JJ went to MIT and has a Harvard MBA. He's qualified for the post. He's even black! JJ never worked for GSG. How much more qualified can JJ be? One concern: how effectively can JJ wield a pitchfork?


Anonymous said...

"In the next hundred days, we will housetrain our dog, Bo, because the last thing Tim Geithner needs is someone else treating him like a fire hydrant. (Laughter.)"

President Obama... White House Correspondents Dinner...

Joe Jett... I think he would be ready to wield a pitchfork... Jett to Treasury! I endorse this plan...

Independent Accountant said...

Go to my 8 August 2008 post. There is a link to a Joe Jett video. Watch it. See what happens to someone who wouldn't knuckle under to the SEC, GE and DOJ. That's the way things are in this country.


Jr Deputy Accountant said...


The pitchfork concern is secondary. It comes natural at this point to most Americans who have been paying attention unless they are the ones who deserve to have them hoisted up and pointed at them.

As for "creative accounting," I think we all know that's just how things work. 2 + 2 = 5 right? depends on who you get your directives from...


Anonymous said...

"Too big too fail"... should also be

"Too big to sail" (unload at the dock)
"Too big to hail" (out of Congress/Treasury)
"Too big to bail" (no more public juice)
"Too big to tail" (bust em up)
"Too big to mail" (bury them)
"Too big to jail" (no not really)
"Too big to nail" (go for it)
"Too big to pail" (sprung leaks)
"Too big to rail" (run em out)
"Too big to wail" (crybabies)