Not an inside job: How two analysts became SEC whistleblowers

Tue Apr 25, 2017 8:37am EDT
 
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By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Four years ago, two analysts who liked to swap notes on numbers they thought looked odd took a fateful step and tipped off U.S. regulators about a company that one of them had watched for months.

Orthofix International NV (OFIX.O: Quote) caught one of the analysts' attention in 2012. The Texas-based medical device maker kept hitting ambitious earnings targets and many analysts had "buy" recommendations for the stock.

But the analyst thought something was off. Its earnings reports showed it was taking longer than usual for the company to get paid by wholesale customers, invoices were piling up and executives struggled to offer a convincing explanation, saying logistical problems at foreign offices were partly to blame.

He spent months tracking quarterly reports and earning calls, and using algorithms to compare Orthofix’s ratios and patterns of sales and inventory turnover with financial data of its peers stored in databases such as Compustat.

"I am always on the lookout for something unusual, either just unusually good and under appreciated, or unusually bad," the analyst told Reuters. "This one showed up as a company that looked like it had the potential to be unusually bad."

In the spring of 2013, he e-mailed his spreadsheets to a fellow analyst and a friend of more than a decade, with whom he regularly chatted about companies and sectors.

"The way we work together is one person makes a suggestion and the other person challenges it," that friend told Reuters.

"It is like a war game."   Continued...

 
FILE PHOTO - The seal of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission hangs on the wall at SEC headquarters in Washington, DC, U.S. on June 24, 2011.    REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo