Wednesday, Dec. 07, 2011

Groupon's IPO Gets Marked Down on Questionable Accounting

In July, when Groupon filed its initial public offering, the social-shopping company claimed that, based on a proprietary accounting metric, it had earned nearly $82 million in the first quarter of 2011. In reality, the company had lost close to $100 million. What happened? Groupon's accountants had conveniently overlooked nearly $200 million in marketing costs. The Securities and Exchange Commission forced Groupon to refile its IPO in August using standard accounting methods. In late September, Groupon said it was restating its financials again to "correct an error." The company had been counting as revenue the cash it collected on behalf of merchants — effectively claiming its sales were twice the actual number. The accounting shenanigans took their toll on Groupon's IPO, which was expected to value the firm at $20 billion in July. By the time Groupon eventually completed its IPO, in early November, the company's valuation had sunk to $13 billion. Within three weeks the stock had fallen below its $20 offering price.