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The Number: How the Drive for Quarterly Earnings Corrupted Wall Street and Corporate America Paperback – April 13, 2004

32 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

(Starred Review) In the wake of Enron's spectacular implosion, the scandals surrounding the collapse of Tyco's stock price and revelations that WorldCom inflated its earnings by $9 billion, many wonder how independent auditors could have overlooked such huge discrepancies in financial records. Others ask how the SEC failed to spot corporate fraud and errors of the accounting firms on such a scale when reviewing the annual reports. New York Times reporter Berenson provides eye-opening answers to these and other equally disturbing questions in this hard-hitting and well-documented study. Against a background of the decline in independent investment research and the shift in client base for investment houses from individual investors to corporations, he charts the ascent of earnings per share-"the number"-to measure companies' health. As stock options became a major element in executive compensation and the consulting role of audit firms increased while the SEC neglected to pursue fraud on any major scale, Berenson argues, corporate executives' motives to manipulate "the number" met with a perfect opportunity to defraud unsuspecting investors, and many couldn't resist. His coruscating portrait of the boldness and reach of corporate fraud over the past five years is a clarion cry for reform. But his discussion of the SEC's shortcomings-due to lack of staff and budget in 2001, it could audit only 2,280 of the 14,000 annual reports received and has investigated a mere fraction of all allegations of fraud in corporations-shows the agency, created to protect investors from exactly what's happened, in the direst state of emergency.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“Alex Berenson, a whip-smart New York Times business reporter, is [a] wisecracking play-by-play commentator. In The Number, he offers a compelling account of how many large-number corporations went astray in the late 1990s. . . . Berenson knows this material cold, and he has a way with a phrase.”
The Washington Post

“Berenson’s book is about far more than one financial concept or dictionary definition. It is a well-written, informative, fact-filled review of how we got into this mess. More, it’s the sort of book those of us who plan to be around the financial-services industry for a long time can take down from our bookshelves years from now, during the next bubble, and say to the younger folks, ‘Let me tell you something, this has happened before.’”
The Mercury News

“If you’re still trying to get a handle on what happened in the stock market for the last five years,[The Number] serves as a concise and readablecrash course.”
The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks (April 13, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812966252
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812966251
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #437,903 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

As a reporter for The New York Times, Alex Berenson has covered topics ranging from the occupation of Iraq to the flooding of New Orleans to the financial crimes of Bernie Madoff.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

51 of 54 people found the following review helpful By mark cuban on January 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I get asked all the time to write a book about business and investing. Fortunately, I dont have to or want to any longer. The Number is the book about investing I would write. Its not a how too book, its a book that pulls back the covers on Wall Street and shows once and for all that it is not an efficient market, and that indivudal investors and fund managers need to know that they are walking into a world that is far more ponzi scheme than a source of capital for growing companies and returns for investors.
If you buy stocks without reading this book first, you are putting yourself at a disadvantage
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Olly Buxton on March 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover
In the last few months I have read four accounts of the tech bubble. Glutton for punishment, aren't I. I've just got through Alex Berenson's "The Number". I was sent a free copy by the publisher. Alex Berenson himself emailed me to arrange this. So first up, in the spirit of full and fair disclosure, I disclose that I was given this book to review. I feel the need to say that especially in this case because I thought this was rather a good book. By some margin the best of the bunch, actually.
Where Roger Lowenstein's "Origins of the Crash" had the air of being something of an aggregation of newspaper clippings, and Frank Partnoy's "Infectious Greed" was less focussed, less penetrating, and in no real sense dispassionate, Mr. Berenson clearly sets out his stall with an interesting (and relevant) history of the regulation of corporate governance and reporting since the 1920s, and an analysis of the issues associated with accounting of any sort. In two short but clear appendices, Berenson explains in lay terms the difference between (and pros and cons of) accrual and sale accounting, and then balance sheets as opposed to income statements. These are fundamentals that one needs to understand what was going on, and not all of the authors who have written on the subject necessarily have a grasp of them.
Where as other authors have targeted (with varying degrees of persuasiveness) bodies such as ISDA, the SEC and the credit rating agencies as the main culprit, Berenson's focus stays very much with the auditing accountants and the corporate executives.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By D. Alexander TOP 500 REVIEWER on April 30, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I wrote this review in late 2007 for a class:

Greed. Unparalleled greed. One might assume from the title of his book that Alex Berenson wrote a mathematical treatise. He did not. The Number is a study of how independent, rational investors can and do throw their experience to the wind in a desperate money-grab, couched in business suits and financial statements, but unremoved from a freewheeling gold rush. Berenson writes in a comfortable, easy style refined through editorial experience as an author for [...], a Wall Street financial publication, but he is not measured or sanguine here. In this book, published shortly after the implosive demise of Enron, WorldCom, and hundreds of smaller companies that would not survive the market bust of 2000, Berenson's prose has the cynical, bitter flavor of a man who just cannot believe how far the mighty have fallen.

The Number has eleven chapters and crescendos to a peak with a recounting of the end of the bull market of the 1990s. The first four chapters cover the history of the stock market; the crash of 1929, the evolution of investment theory, the rock-and-hard-place alignment of accountants, and the creation of the Securities and Exchange Commission. In part two, Berenson explores 1987's Black Monday, and the conception of a new metric of company performance: earnings per share, the number that entitles this book and that would lead indirectly to financial meltdown in 2000. Short sellers, those that bet that a stock will fall based on flaws in public filings, make an appearance in the later chapters. It's charitable that Berenson gives them the limelight here, because they would be ignored completely from 1995 to 2000.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 20, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I approached this book with deep skeptism.
However, Berenson was often spot on in his observations, and I'd give the book high marks - think a more readable, less detailed, version of Irrational Exuberance.
The strongest parts of the book are his concise review of the history of bubbles and his entertaining descriptions of short sellers. He is clearly a strong writer and has some excellent insights on the events leading up to the bubble. He is dead on about the failures of growth through acquisition. Finally, he provides a balanced view that does not have a strong preset agenda.
While a history lesson would serve most folks on the Street well, financial experts will find it lacking in several areas. In particular, the oversimplification of accounting works well as a writing device but leads to somewhat superficial insights on the challenges managers face in managing to the Number. Moreover, Berenson confuses the dotcom bubble with the telecom bubble - which really ought to be looked at seperately.
In any case, the Number is an excellent read. Berenson's a great writer and a strong historian. I'd recommend it as background meeting for the expert financier so they can see that history repeats itself. And it is a fine introduction for the financial novice.
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The Number: How the Drive for Quarterly Earnings Corrupted Wall Street and Corporate America
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