Corporate Fraud Index “Is the Highest in Over 40 Years”, Portending Economic Woes

(p. A2) Manipulation of earnings from Corporate America is on the rise, an ominous omen for the U.S. economy.

That is the conclusion of new research on accounting fraud, using a technique that flagged Enron as an earnings manipulator several years before the energy company’s spectacular 2001 implosion.

Unless you study accounting, you have likely never come across the M-Score, which is the number underlying both the Enron episode and the economywide concern now. The “M” is for manipulation, and uses a company’s financial statements to determine whether it is engaging in manipulation.

. . .

“We think this is a measure of misinformation in the economy,” said Dr. Beneish. The new aggregate measure was published in a December [2022] paper, and the latest data—compiled in March [2023] and shared with The Wall Street Journal—shows that the collective probability of fraud across major companies is the highest in over 40 years.

For the full commentary, see:

Josh Zumbrun. “Signs of Fraud Flash Warning for Economy.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, March 25, 2023): A2.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed years, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 24, 2023, and has the title “THE NUMBERS; Accounting-Fraud Indicator Signals Coming Economic Trouble.”)

The December 2022 paper mentioned above is:

Beneish, Messod D., David B. Farber, Matthew Glendening, and Kenneth W. Shaw. “Aggregate Financial Misreporting and the Predictability of U.S. Recessions and GDP Growth.” The Accounting Review (Dec. 2022), DOI:10.2308/tar-2021-0160.

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