Saturday, April 25, 2015

Santa Claus audit raises red-flag concern

$42 billion in expenses, and 'magic' revenues, says Parente Beard

Santa Claus audit raises red-flag concern

Santa Claus would have to spend more than $40 billion a year to deliver $75 worth of gifts to more than 500 million children under age 14 worldwide, writes Jeffrey Ferro, president of Philadelphia-based accounting firm ParenteBeard, in an "audit" of "Santa Inc."

The privately-held enterprise doesn't release basic data. But ParenteBeard estimates a workforce of 50,000 elves, "even with magic."At U.S. Labor Department toy manufacturing workers' average cost of just under $36,000 a year -- that might sound high by world standards, but it implies advanced Western capital-investment levels, plus the shrunken dollar that has made American factories more competivive vs. China -- that works out to a $2 billion yearly payroll, and nearly $800 million in health benefits.

Commercial real estate for all that production would cover close to 9 million square feet. Assuming full ownership and exhausted depreciation, Parente went on to extrapolate electrical-production data for Barrow, Alaska, at 12 cents per kilowatt-hour, extended for the production site, to produce an annual power bill of nearly $100 million. Toy materials and general expenses account for most of the rest of the spending total. (Santa's unpaid work animals -- those reindeer -- would cost a comparativley modest $54,000, total, to feed and stable.) 

Julius Green, Parente's nonprofit-practice leader, raised concerns relating to Santa's potential operation "as a private foundation," presumably with a self-perpetuating board. He says the company has to be specially careful to "avoid self-dealing" and mingling Claus family living costs with charitable expenses. Labor agitation, if accomodated too generously, could wreck the budget if it led to higher-than-market wages. "They still have huge risks to consider," Green warned.

I was particularly concerned with the lack of revenue data in the short audit report, which reflected only "holiday magic" as a cash input. Isn't that a going-concern red flag?

Claus, who is believed to be the semi-legitimate offspring of a shadowy "Sinter Claus" (St. Nicholas) folk character preserved by early Dutch-American Protestant settlers from their beery European folk memories, wasn't immediately available for comment.

So I asked Alf Trollson, who answered the international phone number that an old proprietary accounting school source gave me for Santa's internal bookkeeping department, if he could explain Santa's adhesion to international accounting standards, as well as its choice of inventory methods: FIFO or LILO or what?

Trollson threatened to "duck any auditor who shows up here in our Arctic back-yard 'swmming pool,' if you know what I mean," before wishing me a Merry Christmas, and ending the call.

About this blog

PhillyDeals posts raw drafts and updates of Joseph N. DiStefano's columns and stories about Philly-area finance, investment, commercial real estate, tech, hiring and public spending, which he's been writing since 1989, mostly for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

DiStefano studied economics, history and a little engineering at Penn, taught writing at St. Joe's, and has written the book Comcasted, more than a thousand columns, and thousands of articles, and raised six children with his wife, who is a saint.

Reach Joseph N. at JoeD@phillynews.com or 215 854 5194.

Joseph N. DiStefano
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