In the Wake of Enron Convictions

Friday, May 26, 2006

In the Wake of Enron Convictions

Ken Lay: He'll look dashing
in an orange jumpsuit

At the Moneybox, Daniel Gross worries that the convictions yesterday of top Enron executives will be used by the Wall Street world and its allies as an excuse to water down accounting and other reforms:

.... you can bet that CEOs and the Wall Street Journal editorial page will soon be telling us that, now that the evildoers have been rooted from the system, it's time to scrap Sarbanes-Oxley and other post-scandal regulation.

It would be nice if this vision of a sparkling clean corporate America were true. It would also be nice if everyone could have a pony.

Alas, the accounting games and executive-compensation excess that began in the 1990s are still very much with us. Some of the most obvious offenders have been caught, but huge amounts of corporate corruption remain.

... Consider what's been making the headlines in the business press. On Monday, the Securities and Exchange Commission levied a whopping $400 million penalty on Fannie Mae to settle charges that the mortgage giant fudged earnings between 1998 and 2004 so that executives ... could receive larger bonuses. The accounting problems persisted well into the Sarbanes-Oxley era.

... The biggest business news story of recent weeks is the Wall Street Journal series of reports on options backdating.

... Between 1995 and 2002, for example, the CEO of Affiliated Computer Services received six options grants at times when the stock was poised to rally after falling. The odds of such a propitious set of options grants were calculated at one in 300 billion.

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