When you're running one of the largest and most complex businesses in the world, it can be hard to keep all the moving parts in check. General Electric
The company just told The Wall Street Journal it is changing its methods and procedures for recognizing revenue, a move inspired by extensive shenanigans it found in how the heavy manufacturing units interact with GE's capital markets group. Apparently a lot of machinery was booked as sold before ever leaving GE warehouses, and complex financing deals played a big part in the problem.
Heads have rolled, restatements have been made, and more of both will come before we see the end of this affair. In total, the new accounting adjustments added $574 million to GE's revenues between 2002 and 2007, but chopped $350 million off the net income.
It sounds like a lot, and it is a huge load of cash, but it's like throwing pennies down a copper mine, or trying to start an earthquake by shaking your hips. That's a 0.1% revenue adjustment, and 0.4% off of earnings.
Immaterial or not, this drawn-out affair proves that no company is beyond reproach -- not even one as respected as GE. IBM
I'm glad to see that the SEC is giving the big boys the white-glove treatment. If we can't trust their numbers, why should we trust the words coming out of executives' mouths? There won't be any reason to invest a single dime anywhere unless we can be reasonably sure that what we see is what we get.
So take your time and get it right, GE -- even if it's a long and perilous road to the finish line. Hold the wrongdoers properly accountable. Your shareholders deserve that respect, and more.
Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any companies discussed here, and his portfolio is mercifully scandal-free at the moment. You can check out Anders' holdings if you like, and Foolish disclosure is a big, fat tattletale.