PCAOB: Ernst & Young Signed Without Evidence

A report issued by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board states that Ernst & Young LLP appears to have signed off on some public-company audits without having sufficient evidence to support its opinion.

The Associated Press reported that Ernst & Young defended its work while acknowledging that it agreed, in response to the findings, to perform additional procedures for some clients.

"In no instance did these actions change our original audit conclusions or affect our reports on the issuers' financial statements," Ernst & Young said in an April 5 letter to the oversight board that was included in the report.

The latest inspection findings found fault with eight public-company audits by Ernst & Young, down from 10 deficient audits identified in the recently issued 2005 inspection report. By law, the largest audit firms must undergo annual inspection by the oversight body, created by Congress in 2002 to inspect and discipline public company accountants.

Inspection findings provide limited insight into audit quality since they don't identify audit clients by name. In response to complaints that the oversight board has been slow to issue findings, board chairman Mark Olson pledged last year to pick up the pace.

"Timeliness of inspection reports continues to be a priority for me, and I am pleased by our progress," Olson said in a statement Wednesday.

According to the 2006 inspection report, Ernst & Young didn't identify one client's departure from generally accepted accounting principles with regard to lease abandonment liability. The report also faulted the auditor's handling of the client's self-insurance reserve and severance payments to former executives. Ernst said it supplemented its work papers and performed additional procedures but that its additional work didn't affect its original conclusions on the unidentified client's financial statement.

Inspectors flagged a second audit where unrecorded audit differences would have reduced net income by as much as 5 percent, saying Ernst & Young failed to consider "quantitative or qualitative factors" relevant to the aggregate uncorrected audit differences. Ernst & Young attributed the difference to a prior-year error identified by its audit team, which it said the client firm corrected in its current year results. While Ernst & Young said it supplemented its 2005 audit record and informed the client's audit committee of the audit differences, it said the actions didn't change its original audit conclusions or affect its report on the firm's financial statements.

The audit firm had the same response to findings on a third audit, one where inspectors took issue with its handling of a long-term licensing agreement paid for partly with cash and partly with stock that would vest in the future. The audit firm disputed findings that there was no evidence it had analyzed the terms of the licensing agreement to ensure it complied with relevant accounting rules.

In a fourth audit, the oversight board's inspectors questioned whether Ernst & Young should have allowed the audit client to aggregate business lines when evaluating impairment of goodwill, saying certain factors indicated that aggregation wasn't appropriate. It said there was no evidence in the audit papers and "no persuasive other evidence" that Ernst & Young considered those factors in reaching its conclusion. For its part, Ernst & Young said it believes the issue was "properly evaluated" and that it took no further action as a result.

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