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Dig deeper! Find hidden treasure in financial statement footnotes

6/3/2022

Numbers tell only part of the story. Comprehensive footnote disclosures, which are found at the end of reviewed and audited financial statements, provide valuable insight into a company’s operations. Unfortunately, most people don’t take the time to read footnotes in full, causing them to overlook key details. Here are some examples of hidden risk factors that may be unearthed by reading footnote disclosures.

Related-party transactions

Companies may give preferential treatment to, or receive it from, related parties. Footnotes are supposed to disclose related parties with whom the company conducts business.

For example, say a tool and die shop rents space from the owner’s parents at a below-market rate, saving roughly $120,000 each year. Because the shop doesn’t disclose that this favorable related-party deal exists, the business appears more profitable on the face of its income statement than it really is. If the owner’s parents unexpectedly die — and the owner’s brother, who inherits the real estate, raises the rent to the current market rate — the business could fall on hard times, and the stakeholders could be blindsided by the undisclosed related-party risk.

Accounting changes

Footnotes disclose the nature and justification for a change in accounting principle, as well as that change’s effect on the financial statements. Valid reasons exist to change an accounting method, such as a regulatory mandate. But dishonest managers can use accounting changes in, say, depreciation or inventory reporting methods to manipulate financial results.

Unreported and contingent liabilities

A company’s balance sheet might not reflect all future obligations. Detailed footnotes may reveal, for example, a potentially damaging lawsuit, an IRS inquiry or an environmental claim. Footnotes also spell out the details of loan terms, warranties, contingent liabilities and leases.

Significant events

Outside stakeholders appreciate a forewarning of impending problems, such as the recent loss of a major customer or stricter regulations in effect for the coming year. Footnotes disclose significant events that could materially impact future earnings or impair business value.

Transparency is key

In today’s uncertain marketplace, it’s common for investors, lenders and other stakeholders to ask questions about your disclosures and request supporting documentation to help them make better-informed decisions. We can help you draft clear, concise footnotes and address stakeholder concerns. On the flip side, we can also discuss concerns that arise when reviewing disclosures made by publicly traded competitors and potential M&A targets. Contact us for more information.

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