SEC launches new probe into Raytheon Aircraft accounting

 - January 14, 2008, 9:58 AM

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has begun an “informal” investigation into Raytheon’s accounting practices, primarily related to the timing of revenue recognition at the company’s aircraft unit–and specifically its regional airliners. The revelation came just days after the Justice Department announced that Raytheon Aircraft paid some $4 million to settle a case related to allegations that it falsely billed the government for insurance costs incurred by its JPATS trainer program. Raytheon has not admitted  wrongdoing in either case, however.

Characterizing the issue as “yesterday’s news,” Raytheon’s Jim Fetig refused to comment on the most recent SEC probe, the third such inquiry in as many years into the beleaguered aerospace giant. A statement released by Raytheon Co. indicated only that the investigation involved revenue reported at Raytheon Aircraft (RAC) between 1997 and 2001. “The company believes the accounting practices at RAC are appropriate, and it will cooperate fully with the SEC’s informal inquiry,” said the statement.

Earnings Restated in 2000
Raytheon’s aircraft division, builder of the Beech 1900 turboprop and Hawker and Beech business jets, last came under scrutiny after the company restated earnings for the fourth quarter of 1999. At the time the company said that new reporting rules requiring revenue to be recognized upon aircraft delivery prompted the restatement. No action resulted from that SEC probe, however.

During the third quarter of 2001, Raytheon also took charges of nearly $700 million related to the 19-passenger Beech 1900D, the same aircraft type involved in last month’s deadly crash in Charlotte, N.C. Although accounting for only an estimated 13 percent of Raytheon’s total revenue, the aircraft division has recently become a drain on the company as a whole. The division has lost more than $750 million over the past two years, not least due to virtually nonexistent sales of the Beech 1900 and the consequently falling values of the 19-seat turboprop.

The Beech 1900’s two largest operators– Mesa Air Group and Great Lakes Aviation– both defaulted on their debt payments for their respective fleets before negotiating new loan terms to better reflect the type’s plummeting market values. The recently signed deal with Great Lakes gave Raytheon 36 percent of the money-losing airline, a transaction that has proven less than well received by the investment community.  
In the matter brought by the U.S. Attorney’s office, Raytheon paid $3.99 million on January 10 to settle charges that it falsely budgeted the cost of aircraft product-liability insurance to the Department of Defense from 1988 through 1999. Raytheon builds the T-6A Texan II trainer known as JPATS, for which the government claimed Raytheon had submitted inflated insurance claims. The settlement, which marked the end of a 15-month investigation, did not include an admission of guilt, however.

Disclosure Gaffe

In November the SEC cited the parent company and its former CFO, Frank Caine, for allegedly disclosing financial information to only a select group of investment analysts. Although the company neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing, Caine resigned from his position in December.   

The SEC also investigated Raytheon in 2001 amid allegations that it hid cost overruns at its engineering and construction unit before selling it to Washington Group International. The commission closed the investigation without further action, however.