The partners at Arthur Andersen were having another argument about the management of the Enron account. As usual, Enron executives were throwing their weight around and trying to dictate who could be involved on their engagement. Specifically, they didn’t want Carl Bass to work on their account because he fought for the proper accounting treatment of items, not the creative ways that Enron used to enhance their financial statements.
John Forney, an Enron energy trader, came up with an idea to skirt the trading rules in California. Enron and Portland General were considered related, so California did not allow them to deal with each other on energy trading transactions. California was worried that since they were related, business done with each other might drive up prices for consumers.
To get around the rules, Enron would create a loop by purchasing electricity in California, passing it to one of its trading companies in another state, and then selling to Portland General, who sent it to California. The electricity was marked up at each stage of the loop, so Enron earned greater profits than it should have.
Former employees of Enron were thankful and encouraged upon hearing that Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling were found guilty of felony charges of conspiracy and fraud. While nothing will give back all that they lost, the idea that “justice prevails” has encouraged the former employees.
Both defendants proclaimed their innocence and vowed to appeal the jury’s verdict. After surrendering his passport and paying a $5 million bod, Lay said:
I firmly believe I’m innocent of the charges against me as I have said from day one.
Kathryn Ruemmler, one of the federal prosecutors active in the trial of former Enron executives Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, told the jury in closing arguments that the defendants lied “over and over and over again” to investors and employees. She said that they used accounting fraud, misleading statements and outright lies to help keep Enron’s stock price up.
Lay and Skilling counter that no fraud occurred at Enron other than executives skimming millions through secret side deals.
Enron had banking and finance relationships with some of the largest international firms: Credit Suisse First Boston, Merrill Lynch, and Greenwich NatWest to name a few. All of the firms were interested in continuing their business relationships with Enron, as the company brought significant fees with it.
As Enron was scrambling to meet analysts’ estimates for the fourth quarter of 1999, they were looking for “creative” ways to add profits to their bottom line.
Enron had a history of trying to elicit favorable opinions on accounting issues from Arthur Andersen. The executives were aggressive in their reporting of income and expenses, always seeming to find a way to report things in the way that had the best effect on earnings.
As a part of Enron’s merger with Portland General, the company was acquiring a supply contract worth millions. Enron had a history of reporting income as soon as a contract was signed (which is a very aggressive and maybe incorrect accounting treatment), so naturally the executives wanted to book this contract as income immediately.
Two existing companies came together to form the company that would later be known as Enron. The original companies were Houston Natural Gas (HNG) and InterNorth. The new company was called HNG/InterNorth, but constant power struggles between the two sides lead management to believe they needed one name to help unify the company.
I have recently begun reading the true story of the rise and fall of Enron. The book is Conspiracy of Fools: A True Story by Kurt Eichenwald. It is fascinating so far, so I thought I’d post here about it every so often. You’ll be able to find the posts under the Enron category, and I’ll start all of them with “Book:”, just so you can find them easily.
My first comment…
The New Yorker recently printed a commentary on Sarbanes-Oxley. While the legislation was viewed by politicians as an important step toward protecting investors from fraud, corporate executives aren’t so impressed.
Corporate executives believe that the high cost of implementing the Sarbanes-Oxley regulations is not justified by the small benefits. The cost of implementation is particularly high for smaller companies, which may discourage them from going public.