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Radio Nowhere: Tax Risk Delists Emmis Communications

radiosMisinterpretation of the tax code led to the NASDAQ delisting of Emmis Communications after investors dumped the stock following a restatement announcement.  In an 8-K Filing Emmis announced that its previously filed public financial statements cannot be relied on for accuracy.  Emmis’s stock price has been trading  below $1.00 per share after investors negative reaction to the company’s restatement of earnings and financial condition.  The restatement was necessary after Emmis discovered it improperly accounted for the tax treatment of Federal Communication Commission  (FCC) licensing rights.

Emmis operates a number of radio stations in key metropolitan markets and was forced to restate its financial statements for the past fiscal year and for the first quarter of this year to adjustments it made in its provision for income taxes.   Last year the company wrote down the value of its FCC licenses.  This put Emmis into a loss position leading the company to overstate the benefit for income taxes and understated deferred tax liabilities by $25.3 million for its fiscal year ended February 28, 2009.

Emmis CEO Jeff Smulyan,  released a statement on the company website that read, “Certainly, ‘restating our earnings’ sounds ominous, but our restatement solely relates to a non cash technical tax issue that has no impact on our operations. While there might be big numbers involved and a lot of paperwork being filed, I don’t see anything to worry about.”

This is an interesting example of the consequences of tax risk.  Most tax risk events result in huge settlement amounts, damage to executive reputations and the company brand and sometimes prison terms for the persons and parties involved.  The delisting of the Emmis stock and the severe devaluation of shareholder equity is a more extreme result of the failure to mitigate tax risk factors.

Sum2’s  Corporate Audit Risk Program (CARP) guides corporate tax managers through a thorough risk assessment of exposures to IRS Industry Focus Issues (IFI).  CARP helps tax professionals score threats of IFI risk factors and implement mitigation actions.  The CARP lists Emmis tax problem as a Tier Three IFI risk factor.  It falls  under the communications  technology and media industry guidelines for amortization on intangibles, licensed programs and contract rights.  The CARP is an indispensable guideline and tool that may have provided insights into the tax risk that led to a costly delisting and evaporation of shareholder equity.

Emmis share price closed today at $1.32.  We wish the management, shareholders and employees a speedy remediation to the problems confronting the company and a recovery of the share price to reestablish its listing on the NASDAQ.

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Risk: tax, shareholder equity, reputation, regulatory

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October 15, 2009 Posted by | business, CARP, CPA, IARP, IRS, regulatory, reputation, Sum2, Tax | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Day of Atonement: Al-Chet for Risk Managers

YomKippurTNToday is Yom Kippur.  It is the Day of Atonement.  The Jewish faith marks this day each year as a day to reflect on our sins and shortcomings we have committed during the past year.  It is a day of personal assessment.  Calling all to examine how we have failed to live a life in conformance to our highest aspirations and ideals.  It is customary to recite an Al-Chet confession prayer.  The Al-Chet is a confession of a persons past year sinful behavior. It is hoped that this admission of sin leads to  reconciliation with the aggrieved and an awareness that helps to establish a pattern of improved behavior in the future.

It is good that we commemorate such a day and use it to a constructive purpose.  After all, how many among us are without sin?  How many of us have achieved a level of perfection that obviates the need to reflect on how we can improve and make amends to those we may have hurt?   To be sure, even the best among us have fallen short of the glory of God.  A Higher Power surely keeps mere mortals rightsized and humble when our egos and perception of ourselves grows too large and burdensome.  The need to keep a strong self will from running riot is critical.  It is particularly dangerous when a person or corporation is unaware and ambivalent to the collateral damage its actions  spawn through the naked pursuit of self interest and ambition. In a sense, God is the ultimate celestial Chief Risk Officer that keeps wanton will in check.

The Day of Atonement is an important day because it is a day of transformation.  It calls for self examination and transformation.  Once we have learned the nature and extent of how our actions and inaction have negatively impacted ourselves and others,  we are called to make amends to set things right.  It is a day that requires considered action to improve ourselves so we can become a positive force for change in the world.

Considering the year that just transpired in the financial services industry, I wonder what an Al-Chet confession for risk managers would include.   We need a strong dose of atonement so we don’t repeat the egregious mistakes we committed last year.

An Al-Chet for Risk Managers:

I was not strong enough to stand up to my boss

I put selfish gain ahead of ethical considerations

I falsified or hid data to conceal results

I failed to be objective

My risk model was too subjective

I ignored warning signs

I was in over my head

I did not understand all the risk factors

I failed to get an outside opinion

I was beholden to monetary gain

I was victim to group think

I placed institutional interest ahead of ethical considerations

I  failed to admit I was wrong

I was not honest with regulators

I was not honest with shareholders

I looked the other way

I failed to act

I conveniently overlooked infractions / irregularities

I made exemptions

I did not understand the depth of the problem

I know there are many more.

Please help me to uncover, understand, make right and overcome.

Shalom

You Tube Music Video:  Aretha Franklin,  I Say a Little Prayer

Risk: compliance, reputation, catastrophic risk, moral hazards

September 28, 2009 Posted by | banking, corruption, credit crisis, regulatory, reputation, reputational risk, risk management, sustainability | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Black Knight

Sir Allen Stanford

Sir Larceny-A-Lot

Sir Allen Stanford turns out to be no knight in shining armor. He’s just another greedy creep who thought he was entitled to other peoples money.   Sir Allen might just be another garden variety Ponzi Schemer; but compared to Madoff this guy is a piker.   The theft of $8bn is petty larceny compared to Madoff’s massive $50bn swindle.

It is becoming startling clear that we can no longer view these types of events as isolated incidents. Sir Allen may be this weeks poster child for capitalists gone wild; but the shock and awe of audacious financial crime is becoming a consistent lead story on the nightly news.  Public trust in the financial markets is at stake.  If people cannot trust their financial fiduciary the whole system goes down.

The SEC’s reluctance to act on information concerning Madoff irregularities and the announcement that over 500 public firms are being reviewed for possible fraudulent business practices are raising a public outcry for more vigorous oversight and protection.  The swirling rumors of bank insolvencies, nationalizations and news of  their egregious failure to adhere to basic risk management precepts are turning the skeptical taxpayers  into vocal opponents of the TARP program and any future bank bailouts.

The allegations that UBS marketed a tax evasion scheme to attract over 50,000 US clients to their private banking business with the promise that it would shield them from onerous tax liabilities may be the straw that breaks the camels back.   US taxpayers are struggling from the burdensome pain of high taxes they dutifully pay.   They are confused and frightened by the orgy of government spending and how the financial industry bailouts will effect them.  The credit crisis and the stunning losses people incurred in their retirement and investment portfolios is casting widening doubt about the trustworthiness of the banking system.  Citizens are urging their elected representatives that all financial service providers must come under a microscope of  scrutiny and oversight.  Consumers want assurances that all fiduciaries are sound.  Taxpayers are demanding that regulators insist that financial institutions provide a level of transparency to assure consumers that they are in compliance with all regulatory mandates, have a program of risk management controls and offer proof of an ethical corporate governance program.

The US tax payer has made it clear that they can no longer shoulder an egregious tax burden that continues to finance insolvent financial institutions that failed miserably to manage risk or comply with the barest minimum standards of proper corporate governance.

The allegations that surfaced suggesting that Sanford Financial may be linked to money laundering for Latin American drug cartels through The Bank of Antigua and related banking enterprises in Venezuela and Ecuador is sure to usher in a new era of aggressive enforcement initiatives by regulators.   The practice of  selling worthless CDs to retail investors that promised high rates of interest is the tip of the spear in a sophisticated money laundering scheme.  This will create some added urgency for regulators to conduct an in depth reviews of financial institutions AML compliance programs.  Examiners will aggressively pursue fund managers  to determine that Know Your Customer (KYC), Customer Identification Procedures (CIP) and Politically Exposed People  (PEP) programs are meeting acceptable standards to detect and deter money laundering.  Of  particular concern will be hedge fund complexes with incorporated off shore structures.  To be sure, examiners will liberally interpret and claim jurisdictional nexus on all offshore structures linked to US domiciled funds.  The US Treasury coffers are bare and it will look to collect taxes on any revenue sources it deems as taxable.

Financial institutions need to demonstrate to counter parties,  regulators, SROs and most importantly investors; that they have a sound risk management program in place that protects the funds investors against all classes of operational risk.    Sum2 offers an AML audit program fund managers use to maintain compliance standards  that  demonstrate program excellence to regulators and investors.

You can believe the examiners are sharpening their spears.  Looking to bag a kill and make an example of wayward managers with lax compliance controls.  Be ready, be vigilant and be prepared.

You Tube Video: Moody Blues: Nights in White Satin

Risk: money laundering, regulatory, operations, reputation

February 23, 2009 Posted by | AML, hedge funds, off shore, operations, regulatory, reputation | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

For the Want of a Nail: Lennar Homes

for the want of a nail

for the want of a nail

Community developer Lennar Homes lawsuit against drywall manufacturers reminds me of the old Mother Goose nursery rhyme, “for the want of a nail.” The rhyme begins with a nail that was not available to affix a shoe to the hoof of a horse. The loss of the nail loses the shoe, which loses the horse, which loses the rider, which loses the battle, which loses the war, which loses the king which loses the kingdom. For the want of a nail is an instructive tale of how seemingly insignificant or minute events can create consequences that escalate into a catastrophic incident that impacts and endangers many.

The Lennar lawsuit is yet another egregious example of supply chain contamination that has recently come to light. The discovery of toxic substances within drywall manufactured in China and used in the construction of Florida homes has prompted the lawsuit against manufacturers and a number of installation subcontractors that purchased the contaminated drywall on behalf of Lennar.

Lennar’s lawsuit alleges that subcontractors it employed to install dry wall, substituted high quality domestic brands with the less expensive contaminated drywall. The subcontractors imported the contaminated drywall from China to save on costs of materials in an attempt to boost profits for their contracted work. The drywall was discovered to contain toxic substances after a number of homeowners began to complain of foul odors, product deterioration and in some cases sickness due to exposure to the contaminated product.

It is believed that the Chinese drywall was found to contain a quantity of dry ash which was used as a filler substance in the manufacturing process. Dry ash is a waste by product of coal fired power plants that are so prevalent in China. The dry ash is known to contain concentrations of heavy metals that are considered dangerous to humans.

This event is certainly unwelcome news for the beleaguered construction and real estate industries. Particularly so in deeply distressed markets like southern Florida. It has heightened the risk profile of all parties involved and could spell catastrophic consequences for some of the involved manufacturers, homeowners, and contractors. This event can also impact the profitability of banks that may be forced to write off non-performing mortgages and construction loans sold to affected homeowners and contractors. Insurance companies may be required to pay off clams for product liability and homeowner policies. Municipalities are also at risk due to this event. Tax ratables and property values are threatened due to property abandonment and the suspicion that toxins have been introduced into the community.

This risk event will require the drywall manufacturers to face severe legal liability. It will impact profitability due to the financial stress of remediation expenses. Most significantly these types of events do severe damage to the company brand and reputation. A great deal of company and product branding is about trust. This types of events compromise the trust of brand consumers. Once that trust is violated it is very difficult to win it back.

Lennar violated its customers trust by allowing its supply chain to be contaminated. This violation of trust will result in financial loss and may create a long term health risk for Lennars customers and their families.

The municipalities that welcomed Lennar with the anticipation that development will serve the citizens of their communities have now been scarred by an ecological hazard. This will continue to haunt the reputation of these towns for many years because it threatens the value of both contaminated and non contaminated homes.

The drywall installation contractors face a high probability of bankruptcy and potential criminal prosecution. This event will fire a deepening distrust of Chinese manufactured products. It will certainly add stress to the delicate political balance of the highly codependent China USA trade relationship. Instigating calls for more protectionism and “Buy America” mantra by American based manufacturers. The prospect of added strain with China is particularly delicate due to China’s important roll in financing government spending through its large purchases of US government bonds. All because some subcontractors wanted to realize a little more profit margin. For the want of a nail indeed.

The unfortunate realization is that this risk could have been prevented. Master contractors need to put in place service and supply level agreements that prohibit the use of substituted materials. Master contractors need to manage supply chains by insisting that all materials used by subcontractors meet quality specifications and are sourced from trusted and thoroughly vetted providers. Adherence to international product quality and testing standards must be ascertained before those are accepted into the supply chain. This is just one aspect of ascertaining weather a supplier meets acceptance criteria into a company supply chain.

The Profit|Optimizer helps manufacturers, developers, contractors and lenders conduct a risk assessment of their supply chain. It is something that many businesses often take for granted yet holds the potential to become one of the most dangerous risks to the financial health and stability of the business enterprise.

Sum2 sells nails. The Profit|Optimizer helps business nail down risks that can deconstruct your business. It is a great set of tools to build profits and construct a healthy sustainable business.

Next time you read Mother Goose “for the want of a nail” to a child remind them to pay particular attention to its sage advise. It may be the first lesson in effective risk management that they will receive.

You Tube Music Video: Peter Paul and Mary, If I Had A Hammer

Risk: supply chain, product liability, reputation risk, ecological

February 7, 2009 Posted by | disaster planning, manufacturing, product liability, reputation, supply chain | , , , , | 1 Comment

Kashi’s Kismet

salmonella

salmonella

Last night as I was researching the Peanut Corporation of America’s (PCA) peanut paste recall, my wife received an urgent telephone call from our local supermarket. The caller informed us that the Kashi products we purchased were subject to recall. I was a bit astonished by the call for several reasons. The first being notified of the unhappy news that a premium brand product that I so enjoy has the potential to kill me or make me very ill due to Salmonella bacteria. It goes without saying that it was a most bracing experience. I was also a bit bemused about the ability of my local supermarket to track me down to inform me that my favorite breakfast cereal might endanger me. At the very least letting me know that this is no breakfast for champions.

Though this is a positive example of how consumer product data mining and customer tracking business intelligence is employed; the realization that your breakfast eating habits are tucked away in some giant relational database remains a bit unnerving. But that is a different subject for another day.

After checking with the Kashi website the cereal products I purchased were not listed on the recall list. Kashi website lists granola bars and cookies as its only products that are subject to recall. As a committed consumer of the brand I remember when I purchased the cereal a free granola bar was included in the package for product promotional purposes. When I returned home I eagerly consumed the free granola bars. I am happy to report that I have not fallen ill. I’ll have to go back to the supermarket and ask if the non contaminated cereal I still have in my cupboard remains subject to the recall. An interesting product bundling dilemma.

The mechanics and execution of the product recall seems to be effective. The sophisticated use of data mining technologies and the ability of the manufacturer to contact a retail consumer through a digital trail that includes customer loyalty cards, credit card, and product bar codes is pretty impressive.

What is of concern about Kashi and other processed food manufacturers that are dependent on an expanded and complex supply chain is their failure to uncover the risk associated with the supplier. In this case PCA. It is alleged that PCA had a leaky roof that played a role in contaminating the peanut paste. A simple walk through of the facility may have uncovered this risk factor. Certainly if a company fails to perform the most basic facilities maintenance functions (like a leaky roof) odds are that the company has other issues and businesses functions that it is not addressing. This is the cockroach theory. Where you see one there are usually many others. A simple walk through may have revealed that all was not kosher at PCA.

Supply chain risk is becoming more prominent as manufacturers and service providers aggregate components and ingredients from numerous providers to deliver a finished product or service to end user consumers. The implementation of a sound practice program that addresses risk associated with supply chains is a key ingredient for a sustainable business enterprise.

The Profit|Optimizer devotes a section to supply chain risk. All process manufacturers must require suppliers to conduct a thorough risk assessment of processes and functions as outlined in the Profit|Optimizer. The Profit|Optimizer also includes a section on facilities risk. The risk assessment tools offered by the Profit|Optimizer would have uncovered the dangerous risk factors at PCA and may have prevented the fatal and costly release of contaminated products.

The kismet of commercial enterprises like Kashi will continue to be bright so long as the mantra of sound risk management is practiced with more vigilance. In doing so the health and well being of its loyal customers will flower as will the value of its product brands and the sustainability of the business.

You Tube Video: Vince Guaraldi, The Peanuts Theme

Risk: reputation, brand, product liability

February 4, 2009 Posted by | manufacturing, product liability, reputation, risk management, supply chain | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Honda Motors Practices Enlightened Capitalism

Amidst all the layoffs, business closures and shutdowns the hard edge of capitalism is a painful experience far too many people are forced to endure. During times of plenty, the relationship of labor and capital is harmonious and symbiotic. Both parties recognize the value that each bring to the corporate community and each parties enrichment and well being is served by the degree of harmony present in that relationship. During down business cycles management may resort to layoffs to preserve the enterprise. Unfortunately this often causes resentments and hard feelings on the part of workers who have lost the means of earning a living. When workers return to their jobs this can cause problems and hurt an affirmative corporate culture that is critical to maintaining a sustainable business enterprise.

In the face of the meltdown in the automobile manufacturing sector, Honda Motors is one of a very select few that is not resorting to layoffs. Honda Motors known for product quality and leadership in product innovation and business processes is also highly respected for its treatment of employees. Honda Motors places great emphasis on the creation and maintenance of an affirmative corporate culture to sustain profitability and market leadership.

Honda Motors decision to restructure the work force, and give workers a period of paid leave until business conditions improve speaks volumes about how management respects and values the contribution labor makes to the long term sustainability of the enterprise. Any remuneration workers receive during the leave will be paid back to the company with unpaid overtime when the workers return to the production line.

The value of good will on the Honda Motor balance sheet has increased exponentially. The sustainability of an affirmative corporate culture will drive profitability, product innovation and market leadership for the many years to come.

We applaud Honda Motors for this innovative and enlightened response to the current market challenges.

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Risk: sustainability, labor relations, corporate culture

February 3, 2009 Posted by | labor, reputation, risk management, sustainability | , , , , | Leave a comment

Peanut Corporation of America

A salmonella breakout that has been traced to peanut products marketed by the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) is an unfortunate and severe example of a company with poor risk management, weak corporate governance controls and questionable ethical business practices. In most instances poor risk management and corporate governance violations primarily victimizes the company that fails to institute them. In the case of the PCA, unsound business practices has unleashed a deadly viral bacteria into a vast consumer market. Since its outbreak in October the salmonella infection is believed to have claimed the lives of 8 people and has sickened over 500. PCA violations will also cast a long shadow on the vibrant US peanut growers and processing industry.

A brief examination of some of the public disclosures that have come to light concerning the PCA speaks of a telling breakdown in sound risk management practices. These disclosures also hints at potential instances of fraud to cover up lax controls and compliance violations cited by FDA and State of Georgia food safety examiners.

The PCA had been cited for violations and lax operational controls during past inspections by regulatory agencies. Inspectors found evidence of roach infestation and mold in the production and storage facilities. Inspections also revealed that product quality had been compromised due to a degraded manufacturing process and improper maintenance of the operating facility. After bringing this to the attention of company management PCA executives sought out food testing companies that would provide results to indicate that product quality met federal safety standards and were safe to ship.

Utilizing industry standard risk analysis tools like the Profit|Optimizer would have revealed several breaches in sound risk management practices at PCA. Lax operational controls, poor facilities and the evasion of corporate governance practices will likely put PCA out of business due to the damage its actions have done to company product brands and reputation.

Problems and risks associated with process manufacturers like PCA add layers of complexity to determine product risk due to its role as a supplier in an intricate and expanded supply chain for processed consumer food products. The melamine contamination of Chinese milk products and the mortgage backed securities market crisis provide examples of how product liability and consumer risk is leveraged due supply chain complexity. The pervasiveness of products that use the peanut paste manufactured by PCA is very similar in many respects. Cookies, ice cream, crackers and other products are subject to recall. Some of the companies affected by PCA’s contaminated products include premium consumer product and brand marketing companies like Kellogg, General Mills, Jenny Craig, Nuti-System and Trader Joes.

Severe product liability events like this unfortunately also cast aspersions on an entire industry. Associations like the American Peanut Council are most concerned that the poor manufacturing practices and product quality standards exhibited by PCA will reflect on how consumers view the industry as a whole. It is a valid concern for the industry association and it must demonstrate to the regulators and consumers that its membership is committed to sound manufacturing practices, product quality and corporate governance excellence. This is not a PR problem. Nor is it a problem born from an industries anathema to regulatory control or a problem unleashed by some renegade industry member. Industries and their representative associations must also help address sound risk management and corporate governance excellence as a cultural issue that is endemic to its membership. Then industry excellence becomes synonymous with product quality and consumer satisfaction.

In all the FDA uncovered 10 violations and has published its report and carries a full listing of recalled products and other resources on the FDA website.

You Tube Video: Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band, Salt Peanuts

Risk: product, operations, regulatory, reputation

January 29, 2009 Posted by | associations, manufacturing, operations, Peanut Corporation of America, product liability, regulatory, reputation, risk management, supply chain | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment