Another year and the stories of corporate scandal, wrongdoing on the part of either corporate big wigs or their employees, never seem to slow down from giving us something to talk about.
Here’s a recap of some of the most notorious dealings or just plain dumb mistakes that occurred in 2017.
Perrigo Co. (NYSE: PRGO), Mylan (MYL) and several Generic Drug Makers
The world’s largest manufacturer of over-the-counter drugs, Perrigo Co., was at the center of a corporate scandal in May when the Department of Justice raided their offices during an investigation into price collusion. The government was looking specifically at the price of drugs that Perrigo manufactures for skin conditions.
Price collusion occurs when companies conspire together to create an unfair market advantage. Mylan NV (MYL) is one of the additional companies charged, and you might remember their involvement with the notorious price gouging scandal involving the EpiPen in 2016.
Investigations into price gouging of big pharma has culminated into a large group of US states accusing key generic drug manufacturers of participating in a wide-reaching price fixing conspiracy. On October 31, 2017 the investigation widened an existing lawsuit that added many more medicines and drug makers, and sent some drug maker company shares falling. After the announcement, shares of Mylan slid 6.6 percent to close at $35.71.
Attorney Generals of 45 states and the District of Columbia are charging 18 companies and naming 15 medicines in the lawsuit, which also includes CEO of India’s Emcure Pharmaceuticals and president of Mylan NV. The charges allege that the company executives agreed upon prices, price increases and the percentage of market share that each company would have in advance.
One Attorney General in the suit states that it is their belief that price fixing is systematic, pervasive and exists in a culture of collusion.
Equifax Inc. (NYSE: EFX)
In September of 2017, Equifax exposed personal information of up to 143 million customers, nearly half of the US population, including social security numbers, credit card numbers, driver’s license numbers, birthdays and addresses in what is known as one of the largest data breaches in history.
To make matters worse, Equifax inadvertently directed customers to a fake phishing site, when in the midst of trying to calm the nerves of the public. Equifax set up a secure website for customers, which was www.equifaxsecurity2017.com, to help people determine whether they had been affected by the breach. On many occasions over the weeks following the incident, Equifax’s official Twitter account responded to customer inquiries by accidentally directing them to a fake phishing site at www.securityequifax2017.com.
This was a big mistake at a time when they were trying to earn back the trust of the public, at the exact moment when they were looking for reassurances about the safety of their information. Equifax didn’t just mistakenly tweet the phishing site one time, they tweeted it at least three times before it was noticed.
Equifax then issued a warning to the public stating that consumers should be aware of fake websites appearing to be operated by Equifax, stating again that consumers can learn more and sign up for free monitoring at https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com, with a reminder that their homepage is Equifax.com. EFX faced criticism for choosing to create a completely different domain for customers instead of keeping a response page within their own domain of Equifax.com. This made it quite confusing for customers to determine if the site was real or not.
As it turned out, the fake site was thankfully created by a jokester without malicious intent, and was for educational purposes and exposing the mass potential for errors, as the first heading on the fake website included the words: “Why Did Equifax Use a Domain That’s So Easily Impersonated by Phishing Sites?”
Of all the companies to have a massive data breach, and then to mistakenly direct consumers to a phishing site, one of the three major credit reporting agencies that contains private and personal information on half of the US population was one of the worst possible scenarios.
Many feel they should have then been smarter about the domain they choose to resolve the problem. This is the very reason why many companies will buy up the domains of common misspellings of their business, to keep customers from landing on a fake site and not making it to their real company website.
Equifax learned of the data breach by hackers on July 29, and only three days later three senior executives including the company’s CFO sold $1.8 million in company shares. The news has sparked government investigations, public outcry and a sharp drop in EFX share price which was down 28 cents to $106.10 late September, declining more than 25% from early September. Investigation continues into the sale of nearly $2 million in stock by the company executives.
Caterpillar Inc. (NYSE: CAT)
In March of 2017, federal authorities raided Caterpillar’s headquarters in Illinois, accusing them of tax and accounting fraud. The report issued by the Government, is a rare accusation of a multi-national company of tax fraud, as the penalties involved could be significant, to say the least. Federal authorities had been looking at the heavy equipment maker for years, and a whistleblower leak in 2009 led to a serious investigation culminating to the raid in March.
The accusations focus specifically on their overseas business and tax actions involving complex appropriations of billions of dollars. US Corporations owe income tax at the 35% corporate tax rate on profits earned worldwide. They are permitted, however, to defer those taxes until bringing earnings back into the US when they will be assessed US income tax with a credit for taxes already paid overseas. There are complex exceptions to the rule, with money reported in the form of loans at the heart of this investigation.
The report accuses Caterpillar of bringing back billions of dollars from offshore affiliates, without paying the accurate amount of US tax. The investigation led by the United States attorney’s office for the Central District of Illinois and the Inspector General of the FDIC, which investigates possible criminal activities from financial institutions, involves a Swiss subsidiary of CAT. The report outlines that billions of dollars in profits from CSARL in Switzerland during 2007 – 2012 should have been taxed at much higher US tax rates. The IRS could impose up to $2 billion in taxes and penalties on profit generated by CSARL.
Caterpillar claims that the undistributed profits were determined to have been reinvested outside the US. Caterpillar is contesting the accusations, stating they complied with tax laws and did not violate judicial doctrines.
There is no ruling as of yet, however many professionals feel that CAT’s noncompliance with US financial reporting rules and tax laws was deliberate, to maintain a higher share price.
Shortly after the raid in March, shares of Caterpillar, which is one of the 30 companies in the Dow, fell 2%, although as of October their latest earnings report was up 27.5% year to date, trading at a rich 25 times earnings estimates, in spite of the ongoing investigation.
These odd or malicious behaviors are not the norm in the financial market, as most have worked far too hard to build their company and reputation to consider any unethical actions.
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