General Electric has revised its operating cash flow downward by more than $1 billion for 2003 and more than $1.2 billion for 2002, according to The Wall Street Journal. The revisions apparently reflect Securities and Exchange Commission concerns that companies are not properly accounting for the financing assistance they offer their customers.
Last week CFO.com pointed out that the SEC asked automakers to change their accounting for cash flow from dealer financing and leases.
Charles Mulford, director of Georgia Institute of Technology’s Financial Analysis Lab, which is credited for initially raising this issue, told the Journal, “I think any company that is providing some form of extended payment terms through a note or a sales-type lease agreement with their customers is potentially affected by these SEC concerns.”
The newspaper pointed out that according to GE spokesman David Frail, the reductions in operating cash flow are small in relation to total cash flow. Frail added that investors more care about a different metric — “industrial” operating cash flow, or cash from all operations except the company’s finance unit, GE Capital — and that this figure is unchanged by the latest revisions.
The financing in question concerns purchases of medical equipment and aircraft engines, Frail told the paper.
The Journal explained that the SEC believes these finance receivables belong in operating cash flow since they stem from operating activities. A number of companies have tended to classify these receivables as the product of investing transactions, the paper added, which reduces investing cash flow but not operating cash flow.