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    Auditor Reporting under Section 404: The Association between...
    research summary posted July 29, 2015 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 06.0 Risk and Risk Management, Including Fraud Risk, 06.09 Litigation Risk, 07.0 Internal Control, 07.03 Reporting Material Weaknesses, 07.05 Impact of 404 on Fees and Financial Reporting Quality, 12.0 Accountants’ Reports and Reporting, 12.06 Consequences of Adverse 404 Opinions 
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    Title:
    Auditor Reporting under Section 404: The Association between the Internal Control and Going Concern Audit Opinions.
    Practical Implications:

    The uncertainties surrounding material weaknesses, the difficulty of auditing around some types of weaknesses, and the fact that the auditor must explain why it issued a clean report on the financial statements when it had issued a MWO, may cause the auditor to become conservative in its GCO decision, which is fairly ambiguous to start with. The study has particular relevance for policy makers and a need for a broader evaluation of the effects of SOX 404.

    Citation:

    Goh, B. W., Krishnan, J., & Li, D. 2013. Auditor Reporting under Section 404: The Association between the Internal Control and Going Concern Audit Opinions. Contemporary Accounting Research 30 (3): 970-995.

    Keywords:
    internal control, going concern, material weakness, ligation risk, SOX 404
    Purpose of the Study:

    Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX) requires companies’ independent auditors to provide an opinion on their clients’ internal control over financial reporting, in addition to the opinion on their clients’ financial. The purpose of Section 404 was primarily to provide information on the internal controls, thus enhancing investor understanding of the quality of firms’ financial reporting. The PCAOB also issued AS2 and AS5, which require an “integrated audit of internal control and financial statements” because the “objectives of and work involved in performing both an attestation of management’s assessment of internal control and an audit of the financial statements are closely interrelated.

    In this paper, the authors explore the association between the two audit opinions by examining whether the issuance of an adverse internal control material weakness opinion (MWO) influences, other things equal, the issuance of a going concern audit opinion (GCO) for financially stressed companies. Although the two opinions are the result of an integrated audit process, they serve different purposes. The GCO reflects the auditor’s view of the financial condition of its client, indicating whether (in the auditor’s opinion) the client will continue to be a going concern for a period of 12 months beyond the financial year end. The MWO reflects the auditor’s opinion on whether there are material weaknesses in internal control and therefore the likelihood that material misstatements in the financial statements will not be detected or prevented. Despite this difference, the two opinions could be connected.

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    The authors examine the association between the MWO and the GCO, using a sample of 1,110 financially stressed firms that reported internal control and audit opinions under SOX Section 404. They start with all public firms on COMPUSTAT with year-ends from 2004 to 2009, for which the authors could compute the Altman financial distress Z-score.  

    Findings:
    • The results suggest that the MWO issued under SOX Section 404 does increase the likelihood of a GCO, while the existence of material weaknesses in the Section 302 disclosures does not. Thus, auditors seem to respond to the uncertainties surrounding a material weakness by issuing a GCO only when they have to issue a MWO.
    • Fifty-six percent of the material weaknesses are classified as company-level weaknesses.
    • If an auditor is aware that the client is in the process of remediating the weakness, it is less likely to issue a GCO.
    • Firms with MWOs raise less capital in the subsequent financial year than firms without
      MWOs, providing some evidence that the issuance of a MWO does impair the firm’s ability to raise capital.
    • To examine whether it is the material weakness opinion rather than the presence of the material weakness that drives auditor behavior, the authors examine whether Section 302 material weakness disclosures are similarly associated with the GCO, but find no association.
    • Heightened concerns about litigation may be driving auditors to issue the GCO when they also issue a MWO.
    Category:
    Accountants' Reporting, Internal Control, Risk & Risk Management - Including Fraud Risk
    Sub-category:
    Consequences of Adverse 404 Opinions, Impact of 404 on Fees and Financial Reporting Quality, Litigation Risk, Reporting Material Weaknesses