HP Uncovers Accounting Improprieties; Takes US$8.8 Billion Charge

HP has announced a non-cash impairment charge of US$8.8 billion related to Autonomy in the fourth quarter of its 2012 fiscal year. The majority of this impairment charge, more than $5 billion, is linked to serious accounting improprieties, misrepresentation and disclosure failures discovered by an internal investigation by HP and forensic review into Autonomy’s accounting practices prior to its acquisition by HP.

 

The balance of the impairment charge is linked to the recent trading value of HP stock and headwinds against anticipated synergies and marketplace performance.

 

The company said it discovered several irregularities, which disguised Autonomy’s actual costs and the nature of its products. Autonomy makes software that finds patterns, data that are used by companies and governments.

 

HP said that Autonomy, in some instances, sold hardware like servers, which have higher associated costs, but booked these as software sales. It had the effect of underplaying the company’s expenses and inflating the margins.

 

HP launched its internal investigation into these issues after a senior member of Autonomy’s leadership team came forward, following the departure of Autonomy founder Mike Lynch, alleging that there had been a series of questionable accounting and business practices at Autonomy prior to the acquisition by HP. This individual provided numerous details about which HP previously had no knowledge or visibility.

 

HP initiated an intense internal investigation, including a forensic review by PricewaterhouseCoopers of Autonomy’s historical financial results, under the oversight of John Schultz, executive vice president and general counsel, HP.

 

As a result of that investigation, HP now believes that Autonomy was substantially overvalued at the time of its acquisition due to the misstatement of Autonomy’s financial performance, including its revenue, core growth rate and gross margins, and the misrepresentation of its business mix.

 

Although HP’s investigation is ongoing, examples of the accounting improprieties and misrepresentations include:

 

  • The mischaracterisation of revenue from negative-margin, low-end hardware sales with little or no associated software content as “IDOL product,” and the improper inclusion of such revenue as “license revenue” for purposes of the organic and IDOL growth calculations.

 

This negative-margin, low-end hardware is estimated to have comprised 10-15% of Autonomy’s revenue.

 

  • The use of licensing transactions with value-added resellers to inappropriately accelerate revenue recognition, or worse, create revenue where no end-user customer existed at the time of sale.

 

"This appears to have been a willful effort on behalf of certain former Autonomy employees to inflate the underlying financial metrics of the company in order to mislead investors and potential buyers. These misrepresentations and lack of disclosure severely impacted HP management’s ability to fairly value Autonomy at the time of the deal," the HP statement said.

 

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