(Bloomberg) -- Clariant AG fell the most in more than two decades after saying the company is investigating allegations by internal whistleblowers that staff manipulated accounts to meet financial targets.
The Swiss chemicals maker is delaying publication of its full-year results and has hired Deloitte LLP and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP to lead an independent probe into its books, Clariant said Monday. The company said it may need to restate results for 2020 and the first half of 2021.
Clariant plunged as much as 20% in Zurich, the steepest intraday drop since September 2001, to wipe out more than 1.3 billion Swiss francs ($1.2 billion) in value.
The company, whose products include construction chemicals and automotive braking and cooling fluids, is investigating whether employees incorrectly booked provisions and accruals with the aim of boosting results to meet targets. Accruals can lead to gains on a company’s income statement before cash has changed hands.
Clariant said it has known of the complaints since September while the CEO was informed a month later. The probe so far hasn’t involved criminal investigators.
“We will get to the root causes of these problems,” Chief Executive Officer Conrad Keijzer said during a call with journalists. “We have strong indications that there have been employees in this company who thought that tricking the system was good if it helped to better meet the guidance. This is completely unacceptable.”
Clariant is seeking to emerge from a period of upheaval marked by executive departures and strife with its largest shareholder, Saudi Basic Industries Corp. The investor moved to oust the firm’s previous CEO, Hariolf Kottmann, leading to his replacement by Keijzer, previously an executive at Akzo Nobel NV.
The alleged bogus bookings include restructuring charges, indemnities, warranties and environmental provisions with questions about accounting compliance and correct timing of the bookings. The Muttenz-based firm has suspended staff directly involved in the manipulation, adding there was no evidence that someone from the former management was involved.
So far the investigation suggests “there was a limited group of people globally who may have intended a profit stirring to build some performance buffer,” Peter Steiner, chairman of the audit committee, said during the call. “At this point we do not know how far back this behavior relates to.”
The revelations at Clariant add to a string of murky practices at European companies that have felled a number of businesses. In Germany, authorities are examining the balance sheet of embattled landlord Adler Group SA that stands accused of accounting irregularities and fraud, just two years after the spectacular demise of payments firm Wirecard AG. In the U.K., defunct contractor Carillion Plc marked one of the biggest casualties in British history.
Clariant said it expects to have met its forecast for an adjusted earnings margin of 16% to 17% before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization in 2021, based on current knowledge. Preliminary sales from continuing operations rose 13%.
The probe and delay to the results are “likely to further add to corporate governance concerns,” Jefferies analyst Chris Counihan said in a note.
The company said it hasn’t identified any impact on cash or cash equivalents. Clariant is also delaying its annual meeting with shareholders.
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