Halliburton Company, Accounting for Cost Overruns and Recoveries
In July 2002, a legal watchdog group, Judicial Watch, announced that it was suing Halliburton Company for overstating revenues during the period 1998 to 2001. The group’s contention was that Halliburton used fraudulent accounting practices to boost revenues and hide a deteriorating financial position from investors. Specifically, the lawsuit centered around the way the company recognized claims recoveries on long-term construction projects. Prior to 1998, the company’s policy was to book cost overrun expenses as soon as they occurred, but not to book claims recoveries as revenue until the repayment amount was agreed to with the client. In 1998, the company changed policies to begin estimating future recoveries and recognizing them in the same period that overrun expenses were realized. The company, which had been suffering from a recent slowdown in business and large litigation losses from asbestos lawsuits, claimed that its accounting practices were permitted under generally accepted accounting principals (GAAP). Judicial Watch, however, claimed the accounting policy inflated revenues over the four-year period by as much as $534 million. This case focuses on the accounting issues and disclosure policy of the company during the 1998 to 2001 period. Readers of the case are asked to assess whether the company’s policies and decisions were appropriate in the relevant areas of accounting and disclosure.