Satellite maker Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles dropped another bomb on Wall Street yesterday, announcing it would restate its financial results for the past 10 quarters, which could mean losses of about $60 million.
The action marks the second time the company has had to restate earnings due to accounting changes. Last spring, the company had to restate results for the first three quarters of 1998 because of an accounting dispute with its former auditor, KPMG LLP, and faces a class-action lawsuit as a result.
Orbital fired KPMG in April after the firm advised the company of "material weaknesses" in the way Orbital recorded financial information.
Orbital's new auditor, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, in preparing the company's latest financial statements, told Orbital executives that it was uncomfortable with the way they had reported an investment in Orbital Imaging, a subsidiary. The company immediately consulted its previous accountants from KPMG, who on Wednesday concurred with PricewaterhouseCoopers' assessment.
Orbital also is reviewing its accounting procedures related to Magellan, another subsidiary, and could possibly make more adjustments, resulting in further losses.
Executives at Orbital said they were caught off guard by KPMG's change of opinion. "We were surprised and disappointed with this development," said Orbital Chairman David Thompson in a conference call yesterday morning.
So were investors. The company's stock closed at its lowest point in a year at $14.75 a share yesterday on the New York Stock Exchange, down from $16.12 1/2. The company will report third-quarter earnings next week.
Orbital manufactures satellites and launch vehicles and operates satellite networks that provide data-messaging services, high-resolution images, and automotive tracking devices. Analysts said the company's fundamental business operations are strong. Orbital had projected 1999 revenue of $900 million.
Still, the accounting news is the latest in a string of disappointments, analysts said. "At a minimum it impacts [management's] credibility," said Riyad Said, an analyst at Friedman Billings Ramsey Group Inc.
"It never ends," said Armand Musey, an analyst with Banc of America Securities. Musey added that the recent events do not involve internal financial controls, however, and have more to do with arcane accounting issues and aggressive accounting practices of years past.
Still, "it doesn't help investor sentiment," he said.
Recently, the company appointed J.R. Thompson to the newly created position of president and chief operating officer to help keep tighter control over day-to-day operations. David Thompson said in an interview earlier this month that the position would help the company build a structure to deal with rapid growth.
Analysts said such a structure is long overdue.
According to Orbital spokesman Barron Beneski, no changes in management have been made.
But in light of the latest developments, "I would suspect they'll be bringing in some new blood," Musey said.