DETROIT – Rumors thatCorp. is the focus of an accounting investigation leave the auto maker puzzled, in its belief it has been more forthcoming than usual in recent disclosures due to the paranoia on Wall Street following bookkeeping scandals at Enron Corp. and WorldCom Inc.
"There’s obviously a lot of investor concern out there about companies and their accounting," says a GM spokesman. "And we feel throughout the entire (corporate bookkeeping scare) that we’ve disclosed a lot more than most companies have disclosed. If you look at our annual report, talking about our use of special purpose entities and how our relationship withAcceptance Corp. fits into the parent company, we’ve been extremely forthcoming on a lot of our financial disclosures. So that’s why we’re a little bit surprise by that."
Trading of GM shares momentarily was halted June 27 when rumors inexplicably surfaced alleging accounting irregularities at GM. The auto maker vigorously denies the gossip.
Shares fell when trading resumed, but by day’s end, the damage to GM’s share price wasn’t that bad, down 2.98% to $51.50.
"Obviously we are in a very volatile environment," was the reaction of Dieter Zetsche, president of theGroup. "At the end of the day, the marketplace and economy are about psychology," he says at an event in Auburn Hills. "All you can do is stay calm and stay the course."
Scandals such as the ones involving Enron and WorldCom harm the confidence and credibility of the system, Zetsche says, scaring investors and influencing the market.
Zetsche says he blames the violators, not the system, in the knowledge it could happen anywhere in the world. What is needed is a discussion of the rules and their control instruments to ensure they are followed – but it doesn’t mean the system is flawed. And he says making CEOs subject to the governance of a litany of committees is not the solution if the CEO loses control of the company.
While Zetsche admits, under German law, DaimlerChrysler AG doesn’t disclose some information required of U.S. companies under U.S. law, he points out that Enron and WorldCom were required to make the disclosures "and yet look what happened. It’s not the volume of disclosure, but what’s disclosed."
Meanwhile, GM says it wants to find the source of the rumor about its own accounting. "You don’t want anything out there that affects your stock and affects your investors. We would like to find out how this happened – absolutely," the GM spokesman says.
The Securities and Exchange Commission refused to say if it would launch a probe to try to determine the cause of the rumor. "We never comment on what we’re going to investigate," an SEC spokeswoman says.
GM wouldn’t say if it would pursue legal recourse if a guilty party is identified.
Uncovering responsibility may prove next to impossible. The rumor was extremely vague, details never filtered out. One unconfirmed explanation indicated that another company with the letters "GM" in its stock symbol was the focus of an accounting scandal. "I think we heard that one, too," says the GM spokesman.
In the early 1990s, GMAC endured an embezzlement scandal.