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Financial Statements

Financial Statements

Financial statements are written records of a business's financial situation. They include standard reports like the balance sheet, income or profit and loss statements, and cash flow statement. They stand as one of the more essential components of business information, and as the principal method of communicating financial information about an entity to outside parties. In a technical sense, financial statements are a summation of the financial position of an entity at a given point in time. Generally, financial statements are designed to meet the needs of many diverse users, particularly present and potential owners and creditors. Financial statements result from simplifying, condensing, and aggregating masses of data obtained primarily from a company's (or an individual's) accounting system.

FINANCIAL REPORTING

According to the Financial Accounting Standards Board, financial reporting includes not only financial statements but also other means of communicating financial information about an enterprise to its external users. Financial statements provide information useful in investment and credit decisions and in assessing cash flow prospects. They provide information about an enterprise's resources, claims to those resources, and changes in the resources.

Financial reporting is a broad concept encompassing financial statements, notes to financial statements and parenthetical disclosures, supplementary information (such as changing prices), and other means of financial reporting (such as management discussions and analysis, and letters to stockholders). Financial reporting is but one source of information needed by those who make economic decisions about business enterprises.

The primary focus of financial reporting is information about earnings and its components. Information about earnings based on accrual accounting usually provides a better indication of an enterprise's present and continuing ability to generate positive cash flows than that provided by cash receipts and payments.

MAJOR FINANCIAL STATEMENTS

The basic financial statements of an enterprise include the 1) balance sheet (or statement of financial position), 2) income statement, 3) cash flow statement, and 4) statement of changes in owners' equity or stockholders' equity. The balance sheet provides a snapshot of an entity as of a particular date. It list the entity's assets, liabilities, and in the case of a corporation, the stockholders' equity on a specific date. The income statement presents a summary of the revenues, gains, expenses, losses, and net income or net loss of an entity for a specific period. This statement is similar to a moving picture of the entity's operations during this period of time. The cash flow statement summarizes an entity's cash receipts and cash payments relating to its operating, investing, and financing activities during a particular period. A statement of changes in owners' equity or stockholders' equity reconciles the beginning of the period equity of an enterprise with its ending balance.

Items currently reported in financial statements are measured by different attributes (for example, historical cost, current cost, current market value, net reliable value, and present value of future cash flows). Historical cost is the traditional means of presenting assets and liabilities.

Notes to financial statements are informative disclosures appended to the end of financial statements. They provide important information concerning such matters as depreciation and inventory methods used, details of long-term debt, pensions, leases, income taxes, contingent liabilities, methods of consolidation, and other matters. Notes are considered an integral part of the financial statements. Schedules and parenthetical disclosures are also used to present information not provided elsewhere in the financial statements.

Each financial statement has a heading, which gives the name of the entity, the name of the statement, and the date or time covered by the statement. The information provided in financial statements is primarily financial in nature and expressed in units of money. The information relates to an individual business enterprise. The information often is the product of approximations and estimates, rather than exact measurements. The financial statements typically reflect the financial effects of transactions and events that have already happened (i.e., historical).

Financial statements presenting financial data for two or more periods are called comparative statements. Comparative financial statements usually give similar reports for the current period and for one or more preceding periods. They provide analysts with significant information about trends and relationships over two or more years. Comparative statements are considerably more significant than are single-year statements. Comparative statements emphasize the fact that financial statements for a single accounting period are only one part of the continuous history of the company.

Interim financial statements are reports for periods of less than a year. The purpose of interim financial statements is to improve the timeliness of accounting information. Some companies issue comprehensive financial statements while others issue summary statements. Each interim period should be viewed primarily as an integral part of an annual period and should generally continue to use the generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) that were used in the preparation of the company's latest annual report. Financial statements are often audited by independent accountants for the purpose of increasing user confidence in their reliability.

Every financial statement is prepared on the basis of several accounting assumptions: that all transactions can be expressed or measured in dollars; that the enterprise will continue in business indefinitely; and that statements will be prepared at regular intervals. These assumptions provide the foundation for the structure of financial accounting theory and practice, and explain why financial information is presented in a given manner.

Financial statements also must be prepared in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles, and must include an explanation of the company's accounting procedures and policies. Standard accounting principles call for the recording of assets and liabilities at cost; the recognition of revenue when it is realized and when a transaction has taken place (generally at the point of sale), and the recognition of expenses according to the matching principle (costs to revenues). Standard accounting principles further require that uncertainties and risks related to a company be reflected in its accounting reports and that, generally, anything that would be of interest to an informed investor should be fully disclosed in the financial statements.

ELEMENTS OF FINANCIAL STATEMENTS

The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) has defined the following elements of financial statements of business enterprises: assets, liabilities, equity, revenues, expenses, gains, losses, investment by owners, distribution to owners, and comprehensive income. According to FASB, the elements of financial statements are the building blocks with which financial statements are constructed. These FASB definitions, articulated in its "Elements of Financial Statements of Business Enterprises," are as follows:

  • Assets are probable future economic benefits obtained or controlled by a particular entity as a result of past transactions or events.
  • Comprehensive income is the change in equity (net assets) of an entity during a period from transactions and other events and circumstances from nonowner sources. It includes all changes in equity during a period except those resulting from investments by owners and distributions to owners.
  • Distributions to owners are decreases in net assets of a particular enterprise resulting from transferring assets, rendering services, or incurring liabilities to owners. Distributions to owners decrease ownership interest or equity in an enterprise.
  • Equity is the residual interest in the assets of an entity that remains after deducting its liabilities. In a business entity, equity is the ownership interest.
  • Expenses are outflows or other uses of assets or incurring of liabilities during a period from delivering or producing goods or rendering services, or carrying out other activities that constitute the entity's ongoing major or central operation.
  • Gains are increases in equity (net assets) from peripheral or incidental transactions of an entity and from all other transactions and other events and circumstances affecting the entity during a period except those that result from revenues or investments by owner.
  • Investments by owners are increases in net assets of a particular enterprise resulting from transfers to it from other entities of something of value to obtain or increase ownership interest (or equity) in it.
  • Liabilities are probable future sacrifices of economic benefits arising from present obligations of a particular entity to transfer assets or provide services to other entities in the future as a result of past transactions or events.
  • Losses are decreases in equity (net assets) from peripheral or incidental transactions of an entity and from all other transactions and other events and circumstances affecting the entity during a period except those that result from expenses or distributions to owners.
  • Revenues are inflows or other enhancements of assets of an entity or settlement of its liabilities (or a combination of both) during a period from delivering or producing goods, rendering services, or other activities that constitute the entity's ongoing major or central operations.

SUBSEQUENT EVENTS

In accounting terminology, a subsequent event is an important event that occurs between the balance sheet date and the date of issuance of the annual report. Subsequent events must have a material effect on the financial statements. A "subsequent event" note must be issued with financial statements if the event (or events) is considered to be important enough that without such information the financial statement would be misleading if the event were not disclosed. The recognition and recording of these events often requires the professional judgment of an accountant or external auditor.

Events that effect the financial statements at the date of the balance sheet might reveal an unknown condition or provide additional information regarding estimates or judgments. These events must be reported by adjusting the financial statements to recognize the new evidence. Events that relate to conditions that did not exist on the balance sheet date but arose subsequent to that date do not require an adjustment to the financial statements. The effect of the event on the future period, however, may be of such importance that it should be disclosed in a footnote or elsewhere.

PERSONAL FINANCIAL STATEMENTS

The reporting entity of personal financial statements is an individual, a husband and wife, or a group of related individuals. Personal financial statements are often prepared to deal with obtaining bank loans, income tax planning, retirement planning, gift and estate planning, and the public disclosure of financial affairs.

For each reporting entity, a statement of financial position is required. The statement presents assets at estimated current values, liabilities at the lesser of the discounted amount of cash to be paid or the current cash settlement amount, and net worth. A provision should also be made for estimated income taxes on the differences between the estimated current value of assets. Comparative statements for one or more periods should be presented. A statement of changes in net worth is optional.

DEVELOPMENT STAGE COMPANIES

A company is considered to be a development stage company if substantially all of its efforts are devoted to establishing a new business and either of the following is present: 1) principal operations have not begun, or 2) principal operations have begun but revenue is insignificant. Activities of a development stage enterprise frequently include financial planning, raising capital, research and development, personnel recruiting and training, and market development.

A development stage company must follow generally accepted accounting principles applicable to operating enterprises in the preparation of financial statements. In its balance sheet, the company must report cumulative net losses separately in the equity section. In its income statement it must report cumulative revenues and expenses from the inception of the enterprise. Likewise, in its cash flow statement, it must report cumulative cash flows from the inception of the enterprise. Its statement of stockholders' equity should include the number of shares issued and the date of their issuance as well as the dollar amounts received. The statement should identify the entity as a development stage enterprise and describe the nature of development stage activities. During the first period of normal operations, the enterprise must disclose its former developmental stage status in the notes section of its financial statements.

FRAUDULENT FINANCIAL REPORTING

Fraudulent financial reporting is defined as intentional or reckless reporting, whether by act or by omission, that results in materially misleading financial statements. Fraudulent financial reporting can usually be traced to the existence of conditions in either the internal environment of the firm (e.g., inadequate internal control), or in the external environment (e.g., poor industry or overall business conditions). Excessive pressure on management, such as unrealistic profit or other performance goals, can also lead to fraudulent financial reporting.

The legal requirements for a publicly traded company when it comes to financial reporting are, not surprisingly, much more rigorous than for privately held firms. And they became even more rigorous in 2002 with the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. This legislation was passed in the wake of the stunning bankruptcy filing in 2001 by Enron, and subsequent revelations about fraudulent accounting practices within the company. Enron was only the first in a string of high-profile bankruptcies. Serious allegations of accounting fraud followed and extended beyond the bankrupt firms to their accounting firms. The legislature acted quickly to fortify financial reporting requirements and stem the decline in confidence that resulted from the wave of bankruptcies. Without confidence in the financial reports of publicly traded firms, no stock exchange can exist for long.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act is a complex law that imposes heavy reporting requirements on all publicly traded companies. Meeting the requirements of this law has increased the workload of auditing firms. In particular, Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act requires that a company's financial statements and annual report include an official write-up by management about the effectiveness of the company's internal controls. This section also requires that outside auditors attest to management's report on internal controls. An external audit is required in order to attest to the management report.

Private companies are not covered by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. However, analysts suggest that even private firms should be aware of the law as it has influenced accounting practices and business expectations generally.

AUDITING

The preparation and presentation of a company's financial statements are the responsibility of the management of the company. Published financial statements may be audited by an independent certified public accountant. In the case of publicly traded firms, an audit is required by law. For private firms it is not, although banks and other lenders often require such an independent check as a part of lending agreements.

During an audit, the auditor conducts an examination of the accounting system, records, internal controls, and financial statements in accordance with generally accepted auditing standards. The auditor then expresses an opinion concerning the fairness of the financial statements in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles. Four standard opinions are possible:

  1. Unqualified opinionThis opinion means that all materials were made available, found to be in order, and met all auditing requirements. This is the most favorable opinion that can be rendered by an external auditor about a company's operations and records. In some cases, a company may receive an unqualified opinion with explanatory language added. Circumstances may require that the auditor add an explanatory paragraph to his or her report. When this is done the opinion is prefaced with the term, "explanatory language added."
  2. Qualified opinionThis type of opinion is used for instances in which most of the company's financial materials were in order, with the exception of a certain account or transaction.
  3. Adverse opinionAn adverse opinion states that the financial statements do not accurately or completely represent the company's financial position, results of operations, or cash flows in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles. Such an opinion is obviously not good news for the business being audited.
  4. Disclaimer of opinionA disclaimer of opinion states that the auditor does not express an opinion on the financial statements, generally because he or she feels that the company did not present sufficient information. Again, this opinion casts an unfavorable light on the business being audited.

The auditor's standard opinion typically includes the following statements, among others:

The financial statements are the responsibility of the company's management; the audit was conducted according to generally accepted auditing standards; the audit was planned and performed to obtain reasonable assurance that the statements are free of material misstatements, and the audit provided a reasonable basis for an expression of an opinion concerning the fair presentation of the audit. The audit report is then signed by the auditor and a principal of the firm and dated.

see also Annual Report; Audits, External; Balance Sheets; Cash Flow Statements; Income Statements

BIBLIOGRAPHY

"Adjust Financial Statements to Better Present Your Company." Business Owner. May-June 1999.

Atrill, Peter. Accounting and Finance for Nonspecialists. Prentice Hall, 1997.

Hey-Cunningham, David. Financial Statements Demystified. Allen & Unwin, 2002.

Kwok, Benny K.B. Accounting Irregularities in Financial Statements. Gower Publishing, Ltd., 2005.

Stittle, John Annual Reports. Gower Publishing Ltd., 2004.

Taulli, Tom. The Edgar Online Guide to Decoding Financial Statements. J. Ross Publishing, 2004.

Taylor, Peter. Book-Keeping & Accounting for Small Business. Business & Economics, 2003.

                            Hillstrom, Northern Lights

                              updated by Magee, ECDI

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Financial Statements

FINANCIAL STATEMENTS

Financial statements provide information of value to company officials as well as to various outsiders, such as investors and lenders of funds. Publicly owned companies are required to periodically publish general purpose financial statements that include a balance sheet, an income statement, and a statement of cash flow. Some companies also issue a statement of stockholders' equity and a statement of comprehensive income, which provide additional details on changes in the equity section of the balance sheet. Financial statements issued for external distribution are prepared according to generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), which are the guidelines for the content and format of the statements. In the United States, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has the legal responsibility for establishing the content of financial statements, but it generally defers to an independent body, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), to determine and promote accepted principles.

The balance sheet, also known as the statement of financial position or condition, presents the assets, liabilities, and owners' equity of the company at a specific point in time. The assets are the firm's resources, financial or nonfinancial, such as cash, receivables, inventories, properties, and equipment. The total assets (balance) equal the sources of funding for those resources: liabilities (external borrowings) and equity (owners' contributions and earnings from firm operations). The balance sheet is used by investors, creditors, and other decision makers to assess the overall composition of resources, the constriction of external obligations, and the firm's flexibility and ability to change to meet new requirements.

Firms frequently issue a separate statement of stockholders' equity to present certain changes in equity rather than showing them on the face of the balance sheet. The statement of stockholders' equity itemizes the changes in equity over the period covered, including investments by owners and other capital contributions, earnings for the period, and distributions to owners of earnings (dividends) or other capital. Sometimes companies present a statement of changes in retained earnings rather than a statement of stockholders' equity. The statement of changes in retained earnings, also known as the statement of earned surplus, details only the changes in earned capital: the net income and the dividends for the period. Then the changes in contributed capital (stock issued, stock options, etc.) must be detailed on the balance sheet or in the notes to the financial statements.

The income statement, also known as the statement of profit and loss, the earnings statement, or the operations statement, presents the details of the earnings achieved for the period. The income statement separately itemizes revenues and expenses, which result from the company's ongoing major or central operations, and the gains and losses arising from incidental or peripheral transactions. Certain irregular items, such as discontinued operations, extraordinary items, and effects of accounting changes, are presented separately, net of tax effect, at the end of the statement. When revenues and gains exceed expenses and losses, net income is realized. Net income for the period increases equity. The results of the firm's operating activities for the period as presented in the income statement provide information that can be used to predict the amount, timing, and uncertainty of future cash flows. This statement is useful to investors, creditors, and other users in determining the profitability of operations. The income statement must also show earnings per share (EPS), where the net income is divided by the weighted average number of shares of common stock outstanding. Since EPS scales income by the magnitude of the investment, it allows investors to compare diverse companies of different sizes; hence, investors commonly use it as a summary measurement of firm performance.

In 1998, the FASB required that companies present a separate statement that classifies all items of other comprehensive income by their nature. Other comprehensive income includes all equity changes not recorded in the income statement or in the statement of changes in retained earnings and that do not result from contributions by owners. In addition to providing a separate statement, companies must display the total of other comprehensive income separately from retained earnings and additional paid-in capital in the equity section of the balance sheet.

The statement of cash flows replaced the statement of changes in financial position in 1987 as a required financial statement for all business enterprises. The statement of cash flows presents cash receipts and payments classified by whether they stem from operating, investing, or financing activities and provides definitions of each category. Information about key investing and financing activities not resulting in cash receipts or payments in the period must be provided separately. The cash from operating activities reported on the statement of cash flows must be reconciled to net income for the period. Because GAAP requires accrual accounting methods in preparing financial statements, there may be a significant difference between net income and cash generated by operations. The cash-flow statement is used by creditors and investors to determine whether cash will be available to meet debt and dividend payments.

Financial statements include notes, which are considered an integral part of the statements. The notes contain required disclosures of additional data, assumptions and methodologies employed, and other information deemed useful to users.

The financial statements of publicly owned companies also include an auditor's report, indicating that the statements have been audited by independent auditors. The auditor's opinion is related to fair presentation in conformity with GAAP.

The external financial statements required for not-for-profit organizations are similar to those for business enterprises, except that there is no ownership component (equity) and no income. Not-for-profit organizations present a statement of financial position, a statement of activities, and a statement of cash flows. The financial statements must classify the organization's net assets and its revenues, expenses, gains, and losses based on the existence or absence of donor-imposed restrictions. Each of three classes of net assetspermanently restricted, temporarily restricted, and unrestrictedmust be displayed in the statement of financial position, and the amounts of change in each of those classes of net assets must be displayed in the statement of activities. Governmental bodies, which are guided by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB), present general-purpose external financial statements that are similar to those of other not-for-profit organizations, but they classify their financial statements according to fund entities.

see also Accounting; Financial Statement Analysis

bibliography

Engstrom, J., and Copley, Paul A. (2004). Essentials of Accounting for Governmental and Not-for-Profit Organizations (7th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

Financial Accounting Standards Board (1987). Statement of Financial Accounting Standards No. 95: Statement of Cash Flows. Norwalk, CT: Financial Accounting Foundation.

Financial Accounting Standards Board (1993). Statement of Financial Accounting Standards No. 117: Financial Statements of Not-for-Profit Organizations. Norwalk, CT: Financial Accounting Foundation.

Financial Accounting Standards Board. (1997). Statement of Financial Accounting Standards No. 130: Reporting Comprehensive Income. Norwalk, CT: Financial Accounting Foundation.

Gross, M., McCarthy, John H., and Shelmon, Nancy E. (2005). Financial and Accounting Guide for Not-for-Profit Organizations. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Revsine, L., Collins, D.W., and Johnson, W.B. (2005). Financial Reporting and Analysis. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice-Hall.

Victoria Shoaf

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Financial Statements

Financial Statements

What It Means

Financial statements are documents that provide details about a company’s performance and well-being over a given period of time. They are the equivalent of scorecards that break down a business’s financial wins and losses during the specified period. Companies usually release financial statements for each quarter (each three-month period of a year) and for each year.

Within a company employees use the information presented in financial statements to make decisions about future operations. Outside a company investors use this information to determine whether it might be wise to invest in the company (by buying shares of company ownership called stock, which may gain value if the company prospers, or by loaning the company money through the purchase of bonds, which pay the investor a fee called interest). Banks and other lenders likewise use financial statements to judge the wisdom of loaning money to companies, and the government uses them to keep track of business activity for taxing and regulatory purposes.

There are three main types of financial statements, each of which offers a useful perspective on a company’s health. These are the balance sheet, the income statement, and the cash flow statement. The balance sheet details a company’s possessions and debts, the income statement details a company’s earnings and expenses, and the cash flow statement details the movement of money into and out of a company. Together these three documents are meant to provide a thorough and accurate picture of a company’s current financial status.

When Did It Begin

Businesses have no doubt always kept records to track their profitability and performance. Records from ancient civilizations in Mesopotamia and elsewhere provide evidence of the kind of financial record-keeping that eventually grew into the present-day concept of the financial statement.

Despite the ancient roots of this form of business accounting, the need for reliable public information about companies did not become pressing until the nineteenth century. This was a result of the increasing size of companies during this time. Prior to the nineteenth century, most companies could raise all the money they needed for their operations through their earnings or by borrowing from banks or other lenders. With increasingly large companies needing increasingly large sums of money to fuel their projects, however, financial markets moved to the center of the economic stage, since a company can raise far more money by selling stocks or bonds than any bank or other lender would be able to provide. To attract investors companies had to offer some proof that their stocks and bonds were likely to be good investments. It became common by the mid-nineteenth century for companies to provide investors with financial statements such as balance sheets and, more rarely, income statements.

Though balance sheets and other financial statements were widely used in the United States by the early twentieth century, the accountants who prepared these records answered to the companies that employed them rather than to the government or the public. The U.S. stock market boomed in the 1920s, but stock prices were not always related to company performance (frequently stock prices were valued much higher than they should have been, given the underlying value of companies), in part because there was a lack of reliable financial reporting. After the stock market crashed in 1929, triggering the Great Depression (the severe economic crisis that lasted for most of the 1930s), the need for more reliable accounting and financial reporting became apparent. Under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) was established in 1934 to oversee the financial markets. The SEC began requiring companies to disclose information more fully and reliably, accounting standards became more rigorous, and the modern system of regular financial reporting began to emerge.

More Detailed Information

No accurate estimate of a company’s financial status can be obtained without studying its balance sheet, its income statement, and its cash flow statement. Though these financial statements vary in format and complexity from company to company, the basic information is consistent regardless of the company.

A balance sheet discloses the details of a company’s assets, liabilities, and shareholders’ equity. Assets are possessions that have value. This includes money and investments as well as property such as office equipment, factories, machinery, and inventory. This also includes intangible forms of property such as copyrights, patents, and trademarks (legal protections that assert the right of an individual or company to be the only business to profit from original ideas). Liabilities are sums of money that the company owes to others. These may take the form of bank loans, rent, wages due to employees, taxes, fines, or customer orders that have been paid for but not yet filled. Shareholders’ equity is the value held by the company’s owners. In the case of a public company, people who own stock are the company’s owners; a private company is one that does not sell stock and that is owned by private citizens. Shareholders’ equity accumulates as a result of company earnings over time. It equals the amount of money that would remain if a company were to sell its assets and pay off its liabilities. The remaining assets would rightfully belong to the shareholders.

A company’s assets, accordingly, must equal its liabilities plus shareholders’ equity. A balance sheet lists a company’s assets on the left side of the page and its liabilities and shareholders’ equity on the right side of the page; the two total amounts “balance” one another. By breaking these balanced amounts down into their component parts, the balance sheet provides an important glimpse into the financial workings of the company.

Income statements supplement the information provided by balance sheets. An income statement breaks down a company’s revenues (the total amount of money brought in through its business activities) and costs, and shows how much profit the company made or how big the company’s losses were during the time period under consideration. Profit is the amount of revenue left over after costs have been paid, and losses result when costs exceed revenue. People commonly refer to a company’s profits or losses as its “bottom line” because this figure is the last one listed on an income statement. A company in good condition will show growth both on the top line, revenue, and on the bottom line, profit.

Another important piece of information on income statements is a company’s earnings per share. This figure represents the hypothetical amount that would be paid out for each share of stock if the company were to distribute all of its earnings. To calculate this figure a company simply divides its profits by the number of its shares that are owned by investors. In reality, companies keep all or most of their earnings and use them to fuel further growth, but earnings per share provides a standard for measuring the worth of a share of stock.

The cash flow statement draws on the information used in both the balance sheet and the income statement, but this information is used to show a different facet of company performance: the movement of cash into and out of a company. A balance sheet shows the value of a company’s assets, liabilities, and shareholders’ equity, but it does not track the amounts by which cash on hand has increased or decreased. Likewise, an income statement shows how much money a company brought in and how much it paid out, but it does not reflect the changes in cash balances that resulted from this activity. Cash flow statements indicate the amount by which the cash a company possesses has increased or decreased in the time period under consideration, and they break down these movements of cash according to the type of company activities that produced them. The amount of money a company has on hand is important because companies must be able to meet their expenses and purchase assets.

Recent Trends

In 2001 and 2002 the high-profile collapses of several major U.S. corporations led to the most serious reform of the standards for accounting and financial reporting since the Great Depression. The most prominent of the collapses were those of Enron, a Houston-based energy company, and WorldCom, a Mississippi-based telecommunications company. Both companies grew tremendously in the 1990s, and their stocks were among the fastest-growing and most valuable of all those traded on the U.S. stock market. During the global economic downturn of 2001–02, however, when the stock market crashed and the two companies began to struggle, it became apparent that neither was as healthy as their stock prices had led investors to believe. Enron and WorldCom both went bankrupt, and their stock became almost worthless, causing shareholders, including many Enron and WorldCom employees whose retirement funds consisted of company stock, to lose billions of dollars virtually overnight.

Investigations into these events revealed that both companies had intentionally misled investors through fraudulent accounting methods on their financial statements. In response, Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. Among many other provisions intended to improve the accuracy of financial reporting and protect investors, the act established a new regulatory body charged with overseeing company accounting practices, and it made the top executives of corporations legally accountable for the information contained in financial statements.

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"Financial Statements." Everyday Finance: Economics, Personal Money Management, and Entrepreneurship. . Retrieved October 17, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/finance/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/financial-statements

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