A while back, while I was delivering my opening remarks to an audience of equipment manufacturers, I acknowledged the other speakers on the program. Besides me, a journalist, the speakers included a banker, a lawyer and an economist. "If only we had a politician here, then you'd have a representative from every group responsible for the recession," I quipped. The line got a laugh, but it was one of those, "Y'know, he's not really that far off from being right" kind of laughs.
One of the prevailing sentiments that swept President Obama into office was the feeling that his would be an open, transparent Administration, with none of the backroom deals that helped create the economic crisis in the first place. Whatever you think of his policies, I think it can be widely acknowledged that the transparency thing isn't working out so well for the President, and if anything, trust is an even rarer commodity than it was before.
Given the current state of acrimony between taxpayers and those suspected of having some part to play in the economy's meltdown, it's probably inevitable that somebody would compile a list of the companies who are considered the rottenest apples in what was already a pretty rotten bunch to begin with. To clarify, these are the companies with "the least transparent governance and accounting practices," according to the list compilers, online financial site 24/7 Wall Street and research firm Audit Integrity.
Taking their cue from Forbes list of the 100 Most Trustworthy Companies (Forbes is of course famously pro-business), the 24/7 list offers a counterpoint view of the 50 Least Transparent Companies, i.e., those companies whose accounting and governance practices pose risks: to the company itself, to its shareholders, and potentially even to the entire economy. They don't actually rank these in order, instead breaking them down into 25 Large Caps and 25 Small Caps, and then alphabetizing them. But extrapolating a bit from the total number of flagged metrics, we can surmise a ranking of the top 5 (or should that be bottom 5?) as follows:
Least Trustworthy Companies
1. Wells Fargo & Company (18 flagged metrics)
2. Pfizer Inc. (17)
3. Hewlett-Packard Co. (15)
3. Merck and Co. Inc. (15)
3. Wonder Auto Technology Inc. (15)