In 1984 Harnischfeger Corporation was a leading producer of construction equipment. During the decade of the 1970s the company experienced tremendous growth. Annual sales grew from $150 million in 1970 to $646 million in 1981. However the company began to experience financial trouble in 1979. This was caused by a variety of factors: the company wasted a large amount of resources on an unsuccessful merger, the government of Iran defaulted on a $20 million order of equipment after the fall of the Shah, and the U.S. economy was in a period of recession with double digit rates of inflation. The company posted an operating loss in 1979 for the first time since 1938. ...view middle of the document...
In addition, a contract to sell $60 million worth of mining shovels was entered into with the People's Republic of China (Harnischfeger, 1985). Lastly, the company restructured its debt into three-year loans that required the company to maintain certain levels of cash, receivables, and net worth (Palepu, 2000).
The new management at Harnischfeger implemented aggressive changes in accounting policy in an effort to make the company appear more profitable. The major areas in which accounting policy was substantially effected were in: changes in depreciation methods on assets, the use of LIFO liquidation in inventory valuation, the restructuring of the employees’ pension plan, a change in the way some types of sales were recognized, and a change in the fiscal year for foreign subsidiaries. (Palepu, 2000). In addition, management significantly altered the percentage of sales allocated to allowance for bad debt. Analysis shows that management exercised a great deal of flexibility allowed under GAAP in order to raise net income for 1985.
Motivation for Accounting Strategy
The new management has two long-term goals in mind. First, to increase the company's presence in high-tech areas such as aerospace and pharmaceuticals and second, to make the company more global. These goals seem to require the company to pursue an aggressive earnings management strategy. In the short term the company needs joint ventures to survive. These joint ventures will provide Harnischfeger access to many new foreign markets and could be a potential source for cheaper labor. Effective earnings management could convince partners like Kobe Steel to be more receptive to investment in Harnischfeger. In addition the company needs cash to be able to participate in joint ventures that may require cross investment to build factories, hire foreign employees etc. Cash is also needed to invest in high tech industries which usually require large capital outlays in research and development.
Management had strong motivation to show a profit in 1984. First, the company was preparing for its 100th anniversary celebration, and therefore needed a quick turnaround. As trivial as it sounds, this consideration probably sped up the timetable to recovery via aggressive accounting policy. Second, and more tangible, the restructuring plan included a provision which would award top executives an additional 40% of their base salary if the company achieved its financial goals for the year. Amazingly, management could receive another 40% of salary if the company outperformed those goals!
III. Accounting Changes
Effect of change in Sales Calculation
Effective November 1, 1983, Harnischfeger incorporated products purchased from Kobe Steel, Limited and then re-sold by the company, into its net sales. During previous accounting periods, only the gross margin on these products was recognized as sales. As a result, both aggregate sales and cost of...