- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 14, 2002

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Officials of many of the nation's biggest companies face a deadline today to attest to the accuracy of recent financial reports, and quite a few appear to be waiting until the last minute.
Of the more than 200 companies that had filed as of yesterday afternoon, from Ace Hardware to Yellow Corp., none had reported a need to restate its finances.
Among the chief executive officers filing the required sworn statements yesterday: multibillionaire investor Warren Buffett, who vouched for the veracity of his Berkshire Hathaway Inc.'s 2001 annual report, its second-quarter report for this year and other financial statements. The company's chief financial officer, Marc Hamburg, also submitted a statement.
In an unprecedented move responding to a wave of accounting scandals, the Securities and Exchange Commission in late June ordered 947 companies all with annual revenues exceeding $1.2 billion to submit the sworn statements from their chief executives.
The Bush administration had urged companies to file the executives' statements before they were due, saying that would reassure nervous investors by showing that most big corporations have been honest.
Despite the accounting debacles, "I still believe that the undergirding of American business is solid and based in integrity," Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill said Monday in an interview with the Associated Press.
But companies may not have felt they would get a lot of public-relations mileage from filing the statements early, said David Becker, a former SEC general counsel who is now a lawyer at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton.
"Somebody for a day says 'Gee, that's a standup company,'" he said. "I think it's more important to get it right."
The filings may reveal that some companies inflated earnings in earlier reports and are now revising them downward. The sworn statements from the CEOs and chief financial officers are meant to vouch for the accuracy of reports for the quarter ended June 30 or other second quarter for companies not on a calendar-year system.
New disclosures of irregularities could deepen anxiety among investors, who already have seen savings evaporate during more than two months of punishing losses on Wall Street.
Mr. Becker guessed that a small number of companies, maybe around 10 or so, could have problems.
The law firm Milberg Weiss, which has sued Enron, Arthur Andersen, WorldCom and other companies embroiled in accounting failures on behalf of shareholders, has dubbed today "Restatement Day."
CEOs and chief financial officers who falsely certify their company reports could be prosecuted and imprisoned, SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt has warned.
The SEC order does not spell out, however, what would happen to companies that miss the deadline. Companies can get an automatic five-day extension.
On the plus side, the CEOs' statements mean Wall Street has been getting a passel of earnings reports that can be assumed to be clean.
The statements and earnings reports will be filed to the SEC on a rolling basis. Many of the 947 companies those that use a calendar year for reporting results must submit them by the close of business today. The rest, using fiscal-year reporting, need not file until later, on the first date they normally would be required to submit their annual or quarterly reports.
The other companies face staggered deadlines stretching from mid-September through December.

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