Detecting ‘Massive Tub’ Accounting within the Wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Detecting ‘Massive Tub’ Accounting within the Wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic

As many firms take care of the aftermath of declining gross sales and lowered revenue margins related to the COVID-19 pandemic, administration could also be tempted to have interaction in an earnings administration approach generally termed “huge bathtub” accounting. Utilizing this strategy, administration deliberately overstates losses so as to current extra favorable outcomes transferring ahead. Given the elevated dangers over the previous couple of years, all stakeholders ought to stay diligent and train skilled skepticism when evaluating monetary outcomes. By carefully analyzing the elements and developments of widespread monetary metrics for liquidity, leverage, effectivity, profitability, and market worth, stakeholders can higher gauge an organization’s working efficiency and monetary situation whereas doubtlessly detecting administration manipulation by huge bathtub accounting.


Detecting ‘Massive Tub’ Accounting within the Wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic

As most firms have now weathered the worst of the pandemic, many leaders are searching for methods to place their organizations for future gross sales development and profit-ability in a novel panorama. One space most consultants anticipate to see used (and abused) throughout the essential reporting years bearing the brunt of the consequences from the worldwide pandemic is the idea known as “huge bathtub” accounting, the place companies deliberately, and sometimes creatively, inflate present bills, thus decreasing present earnings, so as to report decrease bills and better earnings sooner or later (E. Bary, “How Firms are Changing into Inventive with Accounting throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic,” https://on.mktw.web/3DDzNB4, Could 28, 2020).

The idea of huge bathtub accounting is nothing new. The observe was highlighted in a 1978 article that centered on huge bathtub abuse in phase disposals (D. Rankin, “The Challenge of ‘Massive Tub’ Write-Offs,” New York Occasions, Jan. 31, 1978). The massive bathtub idea is kind of easy; if administration is aware of that it’s going to have an particularly dangerous quarter (or yr), it could be tempted to make that accounting interval even worse by expense inflation, pointless write-downs, and unrealistic or overly conservative assumptions and estimates that end in extra prices and accruals.

Historical past reveals that when tragedy strikes, there’s a tendency to stretch any reliable loss to incorporate as many future bills as potential within the present write-off quantity (M. Kirschenheiter and N. Melumad, “Can Massive Tub and Earnings Smoothing Co-Exist as Equilibrium Reporting Methods?” Journal of Accounting Analysis, vol. 40, no. 3, pp. 761–796, 2002). That isn’t to say that each one companies do that, in fact; it is usually to not say that there aren’t reliable bills that have to be accounted for despite the fact that they could be uncommon in nature and never the norm for the agency. However human nature appears to be to offer all of the dangerous information without delay, chalk it as much as no matter perceived or precise challenge might have prompted the loss, after which paint a rosy image of the longer term to placate clients, buyers, staff, and different stakeholders (J. Ernstberger, “Six theses on the impression of COVID-19 on monetary accounting and auditing,” Technical College of Munich,, 2020).

Traditionally, huge bathtub accounting has been a tough observe to detect as administration tends responsible the present market situation whereas presenting a optimistic future outlook. Widespread targets for large bathtub abuse prior to now have included discontinued operations, depreciation fees, stock write-offs, funding write-downs, and weird one-time fees equivalent to restructuring or reorganization prices (A. Tenton, “Massive Tub Accounting Fraud,”, Dec. 11, 2008). This phenomenon is more likely to be compounded by the pervasive and unprecedented nature of the operational and monetary challenges that companies confronted throughout 2020 and 2021 because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Industries initially most affected by the fallout from COVID-19 included journey, hospitality, leisure, and retail. Gross sales and operations had been negatively affected by quite a lot of obligatory closures, occupancy restrictions, and social distancing necessities (Deloitte, “Monetary Reporting Concerns Associated to COVID-19 and an Financial Downturn,”, July 8, 2020). As preliminary panic and restrictions subsided, many firms in these industries slowly began to make their manner again to a brand new regular. Nevertheless, different industries, together with manufacturing and healthcare, shortly began to really feel the pinch, together with strains in provide chain administration and the “nice resignation” (Y.N. Lee, “Survey Finds Auto Trade Hit Hardest by Provide Chain Disruptions Throughout Covid Pandemic,” CNBC Financial system,, Aug. 25, 2021).

Expectations and Skepticism

Given the immense operational and monetary challenges that the majority firms encountered in 2020 and 2021, monetary assertion customers can anticipate to see some uncommon outcomes for the affected fiscal years. With customers anticipating to see main fluctuations and weird developments, it turns into even simpler for administration to have interaction in huge bathtub accounting with out elevating suspicion. The pinnacle of worldwide monetary reporting coverage on the CFA Institute, Sandy Peters, warns that monetary assertion customers ought to train important skepticism of administration’s strategies, strategies, and potential creativity in reporting outcomes, following COVID-19 (Bary, 2020).

Widespread targets for large bathtub accounting for 2020 and 2021 embrace:

  • Stock write-downs
  • Overestimated dangerous money owed
  • Asset impairments (particularly goodwill)
  • Overestimated credit score losses
  • Funding write-downs
  • Uncommon prices (i.e., restructuring fees or reorganization prices)
  • Losses from contracts and agreements
  • Onboarding prices and employment associated liabilities.

Stock write-downs.

Stock is a tough space, and the developments listed below are more likely to differ by business. Firms will report their inventories primarily based on the decrease of price or the online realizable worth—that’s, market worth—of the products. Attributable to market volatility, provide chain disruptions, and ongoing logistical challenges, the market worth or substitute price of stock for a lot of firms has seen speedy fluctuations over the previous two years. As such, administration should train skilled judgment in estimating these web realizable values and evaluating them in opposition to the prices carried on the steadiness sheet, which additionally rely upon the corporate’s stock costing methodology (H.B. Levy, “Monetary Reporting and Auditing Implications of the COVID-19 Pandemic,” The CPA Journal,, August 2020).

Overestimated dangerous money owed.

Underneath U.S. GAAP, administration should use the allowance technique to estimate dangerous money owed or uncollectible receivables. Such estimates are inherently subjective, however can sometimes be supported by prior expertise and business developments. Throughout extraordinary occasions, the position {of professional} judgment and discretion turns into extra pronounced, as administration is compelled to make projections with restricted precedent. Subsequently, some consultants predict that administration could also be overly beneficiant of their dangerous debt reserves (V. Burca, D. Mates, O. Bogdan, “Exemplifying the Impact of Massive Tub Accounting within the Pandemic,” Ceccar Enterprise Overview, The Physique of Knowledgeable and Licensed Accountants of Romania,, February 1, 2021). When the allowance account undergoes the annual true-up in years to come back, any extreme accruals are reversed, as the corporate data small dangerous debt bills, which results in larger reported earnings.

Asset impairments.

Though most of the preliminary enterprise modifications from the pandemic had been arguably short-term equivalent to obligatory lock-downs and full work stoppages, there are different modifications which may be everlasting, or not less than linger for a while. Such modifications convey into query whether or not long-term property may very well be topic to other-than-temporary impairments. Though short-term disruptions wouldn’t sign an impairment, if such situations had been anticipated to persist, an impairment is merited (Levy, 2020). As new variants of the virus proceed to emerge, it turns into more and more tough to venture future money stream developments and thus arrive at cheap valuations for property, particularly goodwill (J. Litman, “The Subsequent Massive Tub: Wall Road is Blind to an Oncoming Earnings Catastrophe,” Forbes,, Could 27, 2020).

Overestimated credit score losses.

Public firms are actually relying totally on the present anticipated credit score loss (CECL) mannequin beneath ASC Matter 326 to report their estimated credit score losses, together with some lease receivables relying on the financing preparations (Levy, 2020). The estimated losses related to lease receivables, particularly for leased actual property, are tough to evaluate for the time being. At the same time as many actions have began to return to regular, sure features of client habits might have been eternally modified. The pandemic accelerated the acceptance of on-line purchasing, which doubtless leaves many retailers seeking to change their enterprise mannequin. This might imply decreasing their bodily footprint and rising their digital presence. For lessors of retail house, this implies uncertainty of whether or not the lessee will proceed to pay, whether or not they are going to elect to resume, and if they don’t renew, whether or not the lessor can discover one other lessee or will face a loss on the property. House owners of huge workplace buildings face comparable questions. Many staff have embraced distant work and don’t have any intention of ever completely returning to the workplace. Thus, firms seeking to decrease overhead and administrative prices could also be searching for smaller workplace buildings or areas the place house sharing will be optimized.

Funding write-downs.

Though truthful worth is usually simple to determine for investments in publicly traded securities, the valuation of minority pursuits in privately held firms poses a better problem. Many giant organizations maintain equity-method minority pursuits in private entities which are accounted for beneath ASC Matter 320. If the funding undergoes what’s deemed to an other-than-temporary impairment, then administration should write-down the worth of that funding accordingly (Levy, 2020). As a result of unprecedented challenges, fluctuations, and everlasting shifts because of the pandemic, subjectivity performs an excellent better position in figuring out whether or not there may be an other-than-temporary impairment and, if that’s the case, the quantity of the write-down needs to be.

Uncommon gadgets.

Though uncommon gadgets equivalent to restructuring prices and reorganization prices are listed individually on the assertion of earnings, they have an effect on total profitability and thus quite a lot of widespread monetary indicators. As such, they’re a tempting goal for managers seeking to have interaction in huge bathtub accounting strategies (Litman, 2020).

Losses from contracts and agreements.

Many holders of lease agreements and long-term contracts might be seeking to negotiate new phrases, in the event that they haven’t already. As a result of the market impression stays unclear, estimating losses with any diploma of accuracy may show difficult (Levy, 2020).

Onboarding prices and employment associated liabilities.

One shocking results of the pandemic has been the “nice resignation,” which colloquially refers to employees who left their positions within the wake of the pandemic. In consequence, employers are going through mounting onboarding prices as they recruit and rent new employees (J. Mullins, “What the Nice Resignation Means to your Accounting Group,” MIP Fund Accounting,, Feb. 15, 2022). Moreover, this development has positioned would-be employees in additional favorable bargaining positions as a result of they may have the ability to negotiate larger salaries and higher advantages, which create extra employment prices.

Efficiency Metrics

Administration, auditors, and monetary assertion customers generally use monetary metrics to evaluate an organization’s efficiency and consider earnings high quality. Monetary assertion metrics are generally grouped into the classes of liquidity, solvency, effectivity, profitability, and market ratios. These are summarized within the Exhibit and detailed beneath.


Influence of Massive Tub Strategies of Key Metrics

Financial Metric; Effect of Big Bath Techniques? Current ratio; Decrease Quick ratio; Decrease Cash ratio; Decrease Debt ratio; Increase Debt-to-equity ratio; Increase Interest coverage ratio; Decrease A/R turnover; Increase Inventory turnover; Increase Asset turnover; Increase (or unchanged) Gross margin ratio; Decrease (or unchanged) Profit margin ratio; Decrease Return on assets; Decrease Return on equity; Decrease Book value per share; Decrease Dividend yield; Unchanged Earnings per share; Decrease P/E ratio; Increase

Liquidity ratios point out an organization’s capability to pay their short-term money owed as they change into due. Liquidity ratios usually deal with the connection between short-term or liquid property and short-term liabilities.

  • Present ratio = Present property ÷ Present liabilities. Whole present property may very well be affected by various huge bathtub–associated accounting abuses, together with stock write-downs, overestimated dangerous money owed, and overestimated credit score losses. Relying upon how the corporate data the occasion, most probably, the transaction will doubtless end in a lower to a present asset account. It’s potential that restructuring fees or different uncommon bills may very well be recorded as an accrued expense (i.e., a legal responsibility) or a reserve. If an organization engages in one among these strategies, the present ratio will most probably decline. As most customers predict to see declines in liquidity indicators, inflated liabilities could be much less doubtless to attract scrutiny at current.
  • Fast ratio (a.ok.a., Acid take a look at) = Fast property (money and money equivalents, accounts receivable, and marketable securities) ÷ Present liabilities. Though a listing write-down wouldn’t have an effect on the short ratio, as stock is particularly excluded from fast property, overestimated dangerous money owed or accrued bills may end in a lower within the fast ratio.
  • Money ratio = Money ÷ Present liabilities. Apparently, only a few huge bathtub accounting strategies have an effect on money. Thus, if an organization accrues uncommon bills, the money ratio might lower, as money could be unaffected by the strategies however present liabilities would improve.

Leverage or solvency ratios deal with an organization’s capability to fulfill their curiosity and debt obligations on a long-term foundation.

  • Debt ratio = Whole liabilities ÷ Whole property. Most typical huge bathtub strategies would end in a rise to the debt ratio, as liabilities could be more likely to rise and property could be more likely to decline.
  • Debt to fairness ratio = Whole liabilities ÷ Whole fairness. The debt-to-equity ratio would doubtless improve utilizing huge bathtub accounting strategies. By overstating bills, web earnings might be understated, probably to the purpose of a loss place, which would scale back fairness. As well as, if an organization makes use of accruals to report uncommon fees, liabilities will improve. With a possible improve to the numerator and reduce to the denominator, the debt-to-equity ratio may rise considerably.
  • Curiosity protection ratio = Working earnings ÷ Curiosity expense. Massive bathtub accounting ends in decrease working earnings, assuming that write-downs and prices are reported as a part of persevering with operations. Massive bathtub accounting strategies are unlikely to have an effect on curiosity expense. As such, the curiosity protection ratio would doubtless decline.

Effectivity ratios present insights into administration’s use of key sources.

  • Accounts receivable (A/R) turnover = Internet gross sales ÷ Common A/R. Though it’s potential that an organization may accomplish an enormous bathtub impact by a mix of expense inflation and income deferral, essentially the most generally used strategies are on the expense facet. As such, this assumes that income, or web gross sales, wouldn’t be considerably misstated even when an organization had been utilizing huge bathtub strategies. If an organization overestimates their dangerous money owed, the common accounts receivable will fall, as ending accounts receivable might be understated. If administration overestimates dangerous money owed, A/R turnover will seem to extend.
  • Stock turnover = Price of products offered (COGS) ÷ Common inventories. If an organization writes down their inventories, each the numerator and denominator of the stock turnover ratio could be affected. If administration runs the write-down by price of products offered, then price of products offered could be decrease. If administration data the loss as uncommon and experiences it individually from price of products offered, then price of products offered could also be unaffected. No matter the place administration data the expense, the stock write-down would most undoubtedly scale back ending stock on the steadiness sheet, thus decreasing common stock. Thus, if an organization engages in extreme stock write-downs, the stock turnover will improve because of a discount within the denominator, probably mixed with a rise within the numerator.
  • Asset turnover = Income ÷ Whole property. Asset turnover needs to be considerably affected by huge bathtub accounting strategies. Though income is more likely to stay unaffected by most strategies, practically all end in a discount of complete property. Thus, asset turnover is more likely to improve utilizing most huge bathtub strategies. But when revenues additionally considerably lower, this ratio might not present a big improve.

Profitability ratios deal with an organization’s capability to generate earnings primarily based on their use of property and investments.

  • Gross margin ratio = Gross margin ÷ Internet gross sales. If an organization data stock write-downs by price of products offered, then the gross margin ratio will decline. Most different huge bathtub strategies is not going to have an effect on this ratio.
  • Revenue margin ratio = Internet earnings ÷ Internet gross sales. If huge bathtub strategies are used, the revenue margin ratio will most actually decline.
  • Return on property (ROA) = Internet earnings ÷ Whole property. Return on property will doubtless decline by using huge bathtub strategies. Though each web earnings and complete property would doubtless lower, web earnings is more likely to lower at a extra substantial charge.
  • Return on fairness (ROE) = Internet earnings ÷ Whole fairness. Just like return on property, return on fairness would even be more likely to decline, as each web earnings and fairness fall. However web earnings, inarguably, would lower extra considerably than complete fairness.

Market ratios deal with market expectations related to a inventory, particularly as these expectations evaluate with reported earnings and fairness.

  • E-book worth per share = (Shareholders’ fairness much less most popular fairness) ÷ Widespread shares excellent. Within the occasion of an enormous bathtub, ebook worth per share will doubtless fall in response to a decline in shareholders’ fairness (assuming the massive bathtub ends in a loss somewhat than earnings).
  • Dividend yield = Dividend per share ÷ Share worth. Dividend yield will doubtless be unaffected by huge bathtub strategies. Given doubtlessly unfavorable monetary outcomes mixed with the continuing financial uncertainty, nonetheless, most charged with company governance would doubtless argue in opposition to the cost of a money dividend.
  • Earnings per share (EPS) = Internet earnings ÷ Widespread shares excellent. EPS will doubtless decline as earnings declines, whereas shares excellent will doubtless stay largely unchanged.
  • Value-to-earnings (P/E) ratio = Share worth ÷ EPS. Within the case of an enormous bathtub, P/E ratio could also be unpredictable. Though the denominator, EPS, will in all probability decline, the share worth is influenced by many exterior elements, together with the market’s expectations for the longer term. Assuming no important modifications in share worth, the P/E ratio would improve amid an enormous bathtub; nonetheless, this ratio might show harder to interpret.

Making certain Earnings High quality

To ensure that monetary statements to be related, helpful, and dependable, they have to exhibit an inexpensive diploma of earnings high quality. An organization’s earnings high quality is usually understood to be the extent to which such earnings are correct and function an inexpensive foundation for projecting future outcomes (Jodi L. Gissel, Don Giacomino, Michael D. Akers, “Earnings High quality: It’s Time to Measure and Report,” Accounting School Analysis and Publications,, 2005). Massive bathtub accounting strategies pose a considerable risk to earnings high quality. As well as, as a result of huge bathtub accounting usually data bills now that might have been recorded later, the observe additionally compromises the earnings high quality of future durations the place bills could also be understated and web earnings could also be overstated. For instance, asset impairment exams depend on money stream projections which are subjective and could also be unusually unreliable because of lingering uncertainties. Underneath U.S. GAAP, impairments can’t be reversed in a later interval, even when estimates or assumptions change (Deloitte, 2020). Armed with such data, administration could be particularly inclined to make use of unrealistically conservative assumptions so as to generate giant impairments now, thus decreasing future impairments or price allocations in opposition to earnings.

Will analytical procedures, together with using monetary metrics, be sufficient to detect huge bathtub accounting? Not even shut. However they could function a place to begin and provides customers a sign of areas that advantage additional overview and evaluation. The next are another solutions:

  • Contemplate how the corporate’s metrics evaluate with others within the business.
  • Decide how the corporate compares to the business common or business development.
  • Consider estimates, assumptions, and projections, and take into account how they evaluate with different firms in the identical space or business. That is particularly necessary in evaluating long-term asset impairments that usually depend on future money stream projections (Deloitte, 2020).

It appears inevitable that current monetary experiences will mirror the continuing uncertainty and volatility within the markets. Though it might not be ultimate, a lot of an organization’s reported earnings are primarily based on the discretion {and professional} judgment of administration. If historical past is any indicator, throughout turbulent occasions, administration is susceptible to put in writing off extra, not much less, in an effort to arrange for higher days sooner or later. There are not any simple solutions, and ethics will play a big position when it comes to what will get reported in periods affected by the worldwide pandemic.