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Competition body slams audit firms

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MARION DAKERS

THE COMPETITION Commission will this morning find that the Big Four accountancy firms have too much control over the industry, and call for measures to encourage Britain’s largest companies to change auditor regularly to boost competition.

In its long-awaited provisional report, the commission is expected to find no evidence of collusion, but will raise concerns that PwC, KPMG, Deloitte and Ernst & Young have an unfair grip on the books of big UK companies.

Many blue-chip firms have “Big Four-only” rules in place, and the commission is set to propose a ban on such measures, according to Sky News.

But it is expected to be less forthright about imposing mandatory rotation, in a move likely to upset mid-sized accountancy firms attempting to crack the FTSE audit market.

The Competition Commission will also urge investors to become more vocal about a firm’s choice of auditor.

All but a handful of the FTSE 100 use one of the Big Four to audit their accounts, and a firm will keep their auditor for an average of 48 years, according to a House of Lords report in 2011.

At least four blue-chip companies are believed to have put their audit contract out to tender in 2012, but only two – asset manager Schroders and oil explorer BG Group – decided to switch. Both continue to use the Big Four.

The Competition Commission declined to comment last night.

     
     
  Portell Production  
 

ADDRESS: 35 Fournier Street

CITY: London

COUNTY: London

POST CODE: E1 6QE

TELEPHONE NUMBER: 020-7375-1563

CATEGORY: Books

 

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Einhorn pleads with investors on Apple vote

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JAMES TITCOMB

BILLIONAIRE investor David Einhorn yesterday pleaded with fellow Apple shareholders to vote against the iPhone maker’s proposals to change its corporate practice.

Einhorn’s Greenlight Capital hedge fund, which owns around $600m (?394m) in Apple shares, laid out proposals that would see billions of dollars returned to shareholders.

Einhorn said that despite the company’s history of product innovation its “attitude to managing its cash has been decidedly non-innovative”.

Greenlight Capital wants the company to distribute a new class of preferential Apple shares – which he dubbed iPrefs – that would be handed out to investors and return a regular, fixed dividend.

Apple has said it is considering Einhorn’s proposals. However, a board proposal at its upcoming annual meeting would see it prevented from issuing the kind of preferential stock suggested by Einhorn.

Greenlight Capital is also taking the company to court, claiming the proposals would violate US corporate laws. On Tuesday the judge presiding over the trial said Einhorn was likely to win the case.

Einhorn said his suggestions would return value to investors, while leaving Apple with cash to make acquisitions, and preventing it from jeopardising its business. Apple’s shares have fallen by a third since their summer highs.

“[The proposals] don’t interfere with whatever business plan Apple has, we want them to keep innovating and designing products we can’t imagine living without,” Einhorn said, imploring shareholders to “send [Apple] a clear message”. Apple did not comment.

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