Other Enrons?

Enron's future keeps looking weaker, as the case against it gets stronger. 

On a day the energy's company's was de-listed from the New York Stock Exchange, it's accountant Arthur Andersen also announced it had fired the chief accountant of the Enron account.

As the implosion continues to mushroom, many on the Street are asking, how many other Enrons are hiding out there?

The fear factor is already affecting skittish investors, who punished the stocks of other energy companies.

"People have been concerned that they would find similar things when they looked through balance sheets of companies like Calpine and Mirant and Dynergy," said BusinessWeek's Peter Coy. "To date, they have not found anything to the degree of shenanigans that went on at Enron."
Many analysts say that Enron represents an extreme case of wrongdoing. But experts say it is a fairly common practice for companies to tweak their balance sheets and earnings reports, to get them up to speed with Wall Street expectations.  And under current accounting laws, a lot of it isn't illegal.

"There is a cyclical nature to that kind of thing that when you get into a recession or a economic downturn," said Thomson Financial First Call's Chuck Hill.

And if Enron was the first biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history, then the second largest may be on the way.

"It's big news when a company like K-Mart is considering filling Chapter 11," noted bankruptcy lawyer David Naiert. "You are talking about one of the huge wildly held stocks out there. And a company that has been under pressure for many, many years."

And the rough road for employees has happened before. At the already bankrupt Polaroid, where 5,000 retirees have had their severance pay yanked, while top executives got millions in bonuses.

It is hard to compare anything to the Enron explosion. But there are some warning signs to consider.  All of the accountants — the watchdogs for truth in company reporting — work under the same rules: so until the laws are changed, stockholders may be looking at a confusing if not misleading balance sheet. 

Further, you can't always trust the analysts. In October there were some serious red flags concerning Enron, but many didn't drop their ratings to sell until it was too late.