Timing of certain disclosures
On Monday, September 20, 2010, the SEC notified Green Mountain Coffee Roasters that it was conducting an informal inquiry and requested it voluntarily submit information concerning “revenue recognition practices and the Company’s relationship with one of its fulfillment vendors.”
In connection with the preparation of its financial results for its fourth fiscal quarter, the Company’s management discovered an immaterial accounting error relating to the margin percentage it had been using to eliminate the inter-company markup in its K-Cup inventory balance residing at its Keurig business unit. Management discovered that the gross margin percentage used to eliminate the inter-company markup resulted in a lower margin applied to the Keurig ending inventory balance effectively overstating consolidated inventory and understating cost of sales. Management determined that the accounting error arose during fiscal 2007 and analyzed the quantitative impact from that point forward to June 26, 2010.
As of June 26, 2010, there is a cumulative $7.6 million overstatement of pre-tax income. Net of tax, the cumulative error resulted in a $4.4 million overstatement of net income or a $0.03 cumulative impact on earnings per share.
After evaluating the quantitative and qualitative aspects of the error in accordance with applicable accounting literature, including Staff Accounting Bulletins published by the SEC, the Company, with the participation of the audit committee of the Board of Directors, has determined that the correction in the margin calculation represents a correction of an error in accordance with Accounting Standards Codification 250 Accounting Changes and Error Corrections, that the correction was not material to the fiscal years and the respective quarters ended 2007, 2008 and 2009 and that the Company anticipates that the correction will not be material to fiscal year 2010 and the respective quarters of fiscal 2010. As a result, the Company anticipates the cumulative amount of the accounting correction will be made in the quarter ended September 25, 2010. [Bold and italicized emphasis added.]
If Green Mountain had discovered the margin error before it was notified about the SEC inquiry, on September 20, 2010, why didn’t the company disclose the margin error to investors earlier, instead of waiting until it filed its 8-K report September 28, 2010?
If Green Mountain discovered the margin error after it was notified about the SEC inquiry, on September 20, 2010, why was the company able to find an accounting error within eight days or by September 28, 2010, when it didn't find the error during the previous fiscal years (2007 to 2010)? This scenario is possible, but it would be very coincidental.
The unknown timing of Green Mountain’s discovery of its margin error raises the question: did the company disclose the error to investors when it was discovered or did the company wait?
Green Mountain’s Common Stock Purchase Agreement with Luigi Lavazza S.p.A.
In that same September 28, 2010 8-K report, Green Mountain disclosed that it closed its Common Stock Purchase Agreement with Luigi Lavazza S.p.A. See below:
On September 28, 2010, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc., a Delaware corporation (the “Company”), completed a sale of 8,566,649 shares (the “Shares”) of its common stock, par value $0.10 per share (“Common Stock”), to Luigi Lavazza S.p.A., an Italian corporation (“Lavazza”), for an aggregate purchase price of $250,000,000. The sale of the Shares was effected pursuant to the Common Stock Purchase Agreement, dated as of August 10, 2010 (the “SPA”), by and between the Company and Lavazza. The execution of the SPA was previously reported by the Company in its Current Report on Form 8-K filed by the Company with the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) on August 11, 2010, and the full text of the SPA was filed as Exhibit 10.1 thereto.
(A) any significant deficiency or material weakness in the design or operation of internal control over financial reporting utilized by the Company; (B) any illegal act or fraud, that involves the Company’s management or other employees; or (C) any claim or allegation regarding any of the foregoing that would have a Material Adverse Effect. [Bold and italicized emphasis added.]
.07 A significant deficiency is a deficiency, or a combination of deficiencies, in internal control that is less severe than a material weakness, yet important enough to merit attention by those charged with governance.
Initially, Green Mountain claimed that its margin error was “immaterial” and disclosed that it would correct that error by making a cumulative adjustment to its Q4 2010 financial reports, rather than restate its financial reports issued from 2007 to 2010. At the very least, that margin error appeared to result from a “significant deficiency” under auditing rules. It could be a breach of warranty under Green Mountain’s Common Stock Purchase Agreement with Luigi Lavazza, though Green Mountain never told investors that may have breached a key warranty under its agreement with Luigi Lavazza.
On August 10, 2010, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc., a Delaware corporation (“Green Mountain” or the “Company”), and Luigi Lavazza S.p.A., an Italian corporation (“Lavazza”), entered into a Common Stock Purchase Agreement (the “SPA”). Pursuant to the terms of the SPA, Lavazza has agreed to make a $250,000,000 investment (the “Investment”) in Green Mountain’s common stock, par value $0.10 per share (“Common Stock”), at a purchase price per share equal to the volume-weighted average price of the Common Stock for the 60 trading days before the closing of the Investment, less 7.5% (the “Shares”). [Bold and italicized emphasis added.]
Based on the agreed upon terms, Luigi Lavazza paid $250 million to purchase 8,566,649 shares, or an average price per share of $29.18 which was computed as follows:
$31.55 gross volume-weighted average price of the Common Stock less 7.5% discount or $2.37 equals $29.18.
Green Mountain’s gross "volume-weighted average price" per share of stock in the sixty trading days prior to closing its Common Stock Purchase Agreement with Luigi Lavazza was about $31.55 per share. Apparently, if Green Mountain had waited to close the deal until after it disclosed news of the SEC inquiry and margin error, Luigi Lavazza would have paid less money per share to the company. This leads to the question: did Green Mountain purposely delay disclosure to investors of the SEC inquiry, the margin error, significant weaknesses in internal controls, and possible breaches of representations and warranties under its agreement with Luigi Lavazza?
More accounting errors discovered
On November 19, 2010, Green Mountain filed an 8-K report updating investors about the margin error it disclosed on September 28, 2010 and also disclosed additional accounting errors:
["Margin error"] A $7.6 million overstatement of pre-tax income, cumulative over the restated periods, due to the K-Cup inventory adjustment error previously reported in the Company’s Form 8-K filed on September 28, 2010. This error is the result of applying an incorrect standard cost to intercompany K-Cup inventory balances in consolidation. This error resulted in an overstatement of the consolidated inventory and an understatement of the cost of sales. Rather than correcting the cumulative amount of the error in the quarter ended September 25, 2010, as disclosed in the September 28, 2010 Form 8-K, the effect of this error will be recorded in the applicable restated periods.
A $1.4 million overstatement of pre-tax income, cumulative over the restated periods, due to the under-accrual of certain marketing and customer incentive program expenses. The Company also has corrected the classification of certain of these amounts as reductions to net sales instead of selling and operating expenses. These programs include, but are not limited to, brewer mark-down support and funds for promotional and marketing activities. Management has determined that miscommunication between the sales and accounting departments resulted in expenses for certain of these programs being recorded in the wrong fiscal periods.
A $1.0 million overstatement of pre-tax income, cumulative over the restated periods, due to changes in the timing and classification of the Company’s historical revenue recognition of royalties from third party licensed roasters. Because royalties were recognized upon shipment of K-Cups by roasters pursuant to the terms and conditions of the licensing agreements with these roasters, Keurig historically recognized these royalties at the time Keurig purchased the K-Cups from the licensed roasters and classified this royalty in net sales. Management has determined to recognize this royalty as a reduction to the carrying cost of the related inventory. The gross margin benefit of the royalty will then be realized upon the ultimate sale of the product to a third party customer. Due to the Company’s completed and, when consummated, pending acquisitions of third party licensed roasters, these purchases and the associated royalties have become less of a factor, since the post-acquisition royalties from these wholly-owned roasters are not included in the Company’s consolidated financial statements.
An $800,000 overstatement of pre-tax income, cumulative over the restated periods, due to applying an incorrect standard cost to intercompany brewer inventory balances in consolidation. This error was identified during the preparation of the fiscal year 2010 financial statements and resulted in an overstatement of the consolidated inventory and an understatement of the cost of sales.
A $700,000 understatement of pre-tax income for the Specialty Coffee business unit, due primarily to a failure to reverse an accrual related to certain customer incentive programs in the second fiscal quarter of 2010. The over-accrual was not identified and corrected until the fourth fiscal quarter of 2010.
In addition to the errors described above, the Company also will include in the restated financial statements certain other immaterial errors, including previously unrecorded immaterial adjustments identified in audits of prior years’ financial statements. [Bold and italicized emphasis added.]
… these errors were discovered by management during the course of its preparation of the year-end financial statements and audit, as well as during the course of an internal investigation initiated by the audit committee of the Company’s board of directors in light of the previously disclosed inquiry by the staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (“SEC”) Division of Enforcement. [Bold and italicized emphasis added.]
We still don’t know exactly when Green Mountain discovered the margin error, whether it was before or after the company learned about the SEC inquiry on September 20, 2010. However, we now know that Green Mountain found several new accounting errors about sixty days after it was notified of the SEC inquiry. It also appears that Green Mountain is taking the position that its errors were "immaterial."
Materiality of accounting errors
Originally on September 28, 2010, Green Mountain disclosed that it overstated pre-tax income from 2007 to 2010 because of the margin error. The company claimed that the margin error was “immaterial” and said it would correct that error by making a cumulative adjustment to earnings “in the quarter ended September 25, 2010.”
On November 15, 2010, the board of directors of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc. (the “Company”), based on the recommendation of the audit committee and in consultation with management, concluded that, because of errors identified in the Company’s previously issued financial statements for the fiscal years ended September 29, 2007, September 27, 2008 and September 26, 2009 and the first three fiscal quarters of 2010, the Company will restate its previously issued financial statements, including the quarterly data for fiscal years 2009 and 2010 and its selected financial data for the relevant periods. Accordingly, investors should no longer rely upon the Company’s previously released financial statements for these periods and any earnings releases or other communications relating to these periods. [Bold and italicized emphasis added.]
How Green Mountain tried to spin the materiality issue
In its November 19, 2010 8-K report, Green Mountain tried to minimize to seriousness of its accounting errors by using carefully crafted language claiming that:
The effects on certain reported periods are quantitatively significant, and the impact of the individual errors will be disclosed in more detail in the Company’s restated financial statements.The adjustments necessary to correct the errors will have no effect on reported cash flow from operations, and are not expected to have a material impact on the balance sheet.
If the misstatement of an individual amount causes the financial statements as a whole to be materially misstated, that effect cannot be eliminated by other misstatements whose effect may be to diminish the impact of the misstatement on other financial statement items. To take an obvious example, if a registrant's revenues are a material financial statement item and if they are materially overstated, the financial statements taken as a whole will be materially misleading even if the effect on earnings is completely offset by an equivalent overstatement of expenses.Even though a misstatement of an individual amount may not cause the financial statements taken as a whole to be materially misstated, it may nonetheless, when aggregated with other misstatements, render the financial statements taken as a whole to be materially misleading. [Bold and italicized emphasis added.]
According to SAB No. 99:
Among the considerations that may well render material a quantitatively small misstatement of a financial statement item are –
- whether the misstatement arises from an item capable of precise measurement or whether it arises from an estimate and, if so, the degree of imprecision inherent in the estimate
- whether the misstatement masks a change in earnings or other trends
- whether the misstatement hides a failure to meet analysts' consensus expectations for the enterprise
- whether the misstatement changes a loss into income or vice versa
- whether the misstatement concerns a segment or other portion of the registrant's business that has been identified as playing a significant role in the registrant's operations or profitability
- whether the misstatement affects the registrant's compliance with regulatory requirements
- whether the misstatement affects the registrant's compliance with loan covenants or other contractual requirements
- whether the misstatement has the effect of increasing management's compensation – for example, by satisfying requirements for the award of bonuses or other forms of incentive compensation
- whether the misstatement involves concealment of an unlawful transaction.
This is not an exhaustive list of the circumstances that may affect the materiality of a quantitatively small misstatement. Among other factors, the demonstrated volatility of the price of a registrant's securities in response to certain types of disclosures may provide guidance as to whether investors regard quantitatively small misstatements as material. Consideration of potential market reaction to disclosure of a misstatement is by itself "too blunt an instrument to be depended on" in considering whether a fact is material. When, however, management or the independent auditor expects (based, for example, on a pattern of market performance) that a known misstatement may result in a significant positive or negative market reaction, that expected reaction should be taken into account when considering whether a misstatement is material.
About five weeks after that blog post, on October 28, 2010, Stacy belatedly filed an amended Form 4 report and disclosed that:
This Form 4 has been amended to note that these sales were affected pursuant to a Rule 10b5-1 trading plan adopted by Ms. Stacy on 08/13/2010.
At the very least, Michelle Stacy’s filing of amended Form 4 reports displays a continuous pattern of problematic financial reporting by Green Mountain and its officers and which increases investor uncertainty about the integrity of the company’s SEC filings.
Many responsible companies voluntarily disclose their insider's 10b5-1 trading plans as they are adopted, even though such disclosure is not required under existing SEC rules. The existence of 10b5-1 trading plans are only required to be disclosed on Form 4 as insiders purchase or sell their stock pursuant to such plans. However, voluntary disclosure at the inception of a 10b5-1 trading plan by insiders increases corporate transparency.
On August 13, 2010, Michelle Stacy exercised 30,000 options and immediately sold her shares at $30.95 per share. Not till October 28 did Stacy file amended Form 4 reports to reflect that her September 13th and 21st option exercises and sales of stock were carried out pursuant to a Rule 10b5-1 trading plan. Stacy claimed that she adopted a 10b5-1 trading plan on August 13. On August 13th, Stacy exercised options and sold stock, but she still does not claim that those transactions were made pursuant to a 10b5-1 trading plan.
If a corporate executive already has nonpublic knowledge of certain adverse events such as undisclosed weaknesses in internal controls, accounting errors, or an SEC inquiry, a 10b5-1 plan cannot provide a safe harbor against illegal insider trading allegations. If it turns out that Michelle Stacy had non-public knowledge of any of those issues affecting Green Mountain before adopting her 10b5-1 trading plan, she could be charged by the SEC with alleged insider trading violations. Several lawsuits seeking class action status have already alleged securities law violations by Green Mountain and its officers.
Usually 10b5-1 trading plans call for the purchase or sale of stock by insiders at regular intervals. Michelle Stacy’s plan doesn't appear particularly regular. On Monday, September 13, 2010, she exercised options and sold 5,000 shares of Green Mountain stock. Eight days later on Tuesday, September 21, 2010 (and a day after Green Mountain received notification of the SEC inquiry) she exercised options and sold another 5,000 shares of Green Mountain stock. Forty-five days later, on November 5, 2010, Michelle Stacy exercised options and sold 10,000 shares of Green Mountain stock. In the interest of transparency, Michelle Stacy should explain how the timing of option exercises and sales were determined under her 10b5-1 plan.
The internal investigation is nearly complete, and the Company continues to cooperate fully with the SEC. None of the financial statement errors implicate misconduct with respect to the Company or its management or employees. In addition, none of the financial statement errors are related to the Company’s relationship with M.Block & Sons, the fulfillment vendor through which the Company makes a majority of the at-home orders for the Keurig business unit’s single-cup business sold to retailers. [Bold and italicized emphasis added.]
While I personally like the smell of Green Mountain's coffee, I don't like the smell of its financial disclosures. A little more enthusiasm in cleaning up its financial reporting (like it devotes to cleaning up the environment) and a little more transparency would go a long way.
Sam E. Antar (with research assistance from Ilene)
Recommended reading about issues with 10b5-1 trading plans
February 1, 2009: Stanford University Graduate School of Business - Sec Rule 10b5-1 and Insiders' Strategic Trade by Alan D. Jagolinzer
July 2009: Stanford University Graduate School of Business - Research Underpins SEC Scrutiny of Scheduled Insider Trades by Bill Snyder
I am a convicted felon and a former CPA. As the criminal CFO of Crazy Eddie, I helped my cousin Eddie Antar and other members of his family mastermind one of the largest securities frauds uncovered during the 1980's. I committed my crimes in cold-blood for fun and profit, and simply because I could.
If it weren't for the heroic efforts of the FBI, SEC, Postal Inspector's Office, US Attorney's Office, and class action plaintiff's lawyers who investigated, prosecuted, and sued me, I would still be the criminal CFO of Crazy Eddie today.
There is a saying, "It takes one to know one." Today, I work very closely with the FBI, IRS, SEC, Justice Department, and other federal and state law enforcement agencies in training them to identify and catch white-collar criminals. Often, I refer cases to them. I teach about white-collar crime for professional organizations, businesses, and colleges and universities.
Recently, I exposed GAAP violations by Overstock.com which caused the company to restate its financial reports for the third time in three years. The SEC is now investigating Overstock.com and its CEO Patrick Byrne for securities law violations (Details here, here, and here).
I do not seek or want forgiveness for my vicious crimes from my victims. I plan on frying in hell with other white-collar criminals for a very long time.
I do not own any Green Mountain Coffee Roasters or Overstock.com securities long or short. My investigations of those companies is a freebie for securities regulators to get me into heaven, though I doubt I will ever get there. My past sins are unforgivable.