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Enron Collapse: An Overview of Financial Issues

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Publication Date: January 2003

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RS21135

Topic: Business (Accounting)

Abstract:

The sudden and unexpected collapse of Enron Corp. was the first in a series of major corporate accounting scandals that has shaken confidence in corporate governance and the stock market. Only months before Enron's bankruptcy filing in December 2001, the firm was widely regarded as one of the most innovative, fastest growing, and best managed businesses in the United States. With the swift collapse, shareholders, including thousands of Enron workers who held company stock in their 401(k) retirement accounts, lost tens of billions of dollars.

It now appears that Enron was in terrible financial shape as early as 2000, burdened with debt and money-losing businesses, but manipulated its accounting statements to hide these problems. Why didn't the watchdogs bark? This report briefly examines the accounting system that failed to provide a clear picture of the firm's true condition, the independent auditors and board members who were unwilling to challenge Enron's management, the Wall Street stock analysts and bond raters who failed to warn investors of the trouble ahead, the rules governing employer stock in company pension plans, and the unregulated energy derivatives trading that was the core of Enron's business. The report summarizes the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (P.L. 107-204), the major response by the 107th Congress to Enron's fall, and will be updated as the 108th Congress addresses related financial issues.

Other contributors to this report include William D. Jackson, Bob Lyke, Patrick Purcell, and Gary Shorter.