SEC Probing IBM Over Revenue Recognition

The investigation concerns the accounting treatment of certain transactions in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and the United States.
Matthew HellerOctober 28, 2015
SEC Probing IBM Over Revenue Recognition

IBM has disclosed that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating how it recognizes revenue from certain transactions in the United States, United Kingdom, and Ireland.

IBM shares closed down 4% at $137.85 on Tuesday after it disclosed the investigation in a regulatory filing.

“In August 2015, IBM learned that the SEC is conducting an investigation relating to revenue recognition with respect to the accounting treatment of certain transactions in the U.S., U.K., and Ireland,” the filing said, without providing any details. “The company is cooperating with the SEC in this matter.”

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The company said it has “a rigorous and disciplined process for the preparation of its financial statements and the reporting of revenue” and that it was “confident that the results and information we report have been appropriate and consistent with GAAP.”

Norman J. Bartczak, an adjunct professor at Columbia University, told The Wall Street Journal that suppliers of a wide variety of technology services like IBM can find it difficult to allocate revenue appropriately.

“You’re selling, in effect, multiple services, and the accounting says that you need to do the best you can to break out those services and recognize [them],” he said.

Re/Code suggested that the fact that transactions in the United Kingdom and Ireland are under scrutiny may be significant. “Those countries use a different set of accounting rules, known as the International Financial Reporting Standards, or IFRS,” it noted.

The SEC previously investigated IBM over its revenue recognition practices in 2003. Last year, it closed an investigation into how IBM recognized revenue on its cloud software products without bringing an enforcement action.