It shouldn't surprise investors that the SEC is finally taking Goodyear Tire & Rubber (NYSE: GT ) to task for its accounting mishaps last year. The company's bungled financial reporting richly deserves a slap upside the head.
As you'll recall, Goodyear first reported that it had overstated earnings by, oh, say, $100 million over five years, apparently because of a computer snafu. That made its $1 billion loss just a teensy bit worse than it thought. It followed that revelation by disclosing accounting improprieties at its European division. Uh-oh. But the tire maker wasn't done airing dirty laundry; a few months later, it reported it another $16 million reduction in earnings because of understating workers' comp claims in prior years.
While it's not small change, $16 million isn't particularly significant to a $3 billion corporation. But it is a telling sign of the chaos that apparently ran rampant in the accounting department. Goodyear's bean counters apparently couldn't count; the following month they restated earnings again, ratcheting them down another $65 million (while also increasing the prior workers' comp claims restatement to $20 million). The company then embarked on a series of delays in filing its quarterly and annual reports.
This performance demands action from the SEC. I'm a Goodyear shareholder, and even I want them to be admonished. It's just unacceptable behavior, and the SEC apparently agrees. It served the company with a Wells Notice, a warning that the staff plans to take civil or administrative actions against Goodyear for having violated its rules. (The regulatory agency began investigating Goodyear in 2003, when the accounting woes began.)
Yet the story of Goodyear's accounting is thankfully all but a dead issue. The tire maker has gotten its act back together, increasing sales, turning out profits -- and filing its reports on time! It has raised prices, patched up relations with distributors, and apparently bought new abacuses for its accountants. The SEC action is a necessary event, if only to ensure compliance from other companies. Yet the Goodyear of today is not the same as the tire maker of years prior, when bankruptcy seemed a real possibility. Its financial footing is more firm, though a mountain of debt still looms.
The company has been cooperating with the investigation; SEC scrutiny is nothing to shrug off, but it shouldn't represent a stumbling block to Goodyear's performance. If anything, it should help close this unfortunate chapter of the company's books -- so long as Goodyear gets the paperwork in on time.
If you haven't tired of the Goodyear saga:
Fool contributor Rich Duprey owns shares in Goodyear but does not own any of the other companies mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.