Top 10 biggest corporate scandals and how they affected share prices

A corporate scandal can have a dramatic effect on a company’s bottom line. Here we take a look at the 10 biggest corporate scandals of all time to explain how they affected each company’s share price.

A corporate scandal can occur any time there is evidence of unethical behaviour, negligence or third-party interference that impacts a company’s reputation. As we will see, this can include evidence of ‘creative’ accounting, dodgy business practices, data breaches or anything that damages the environment. Here are 10 of the biggest corporate scandals of recent times – ranked according to notoriety.

Top 10 biggest corporate scandals

  1. Enron
  2. Volkswagen
  3. Lehman Brothers
  4. BP
  5. Uber
  6. Apple
  7. Facebook
  8. Valeant Pharmaceuticals
  9. Kobe Steel
  10. Equifax

Enron scandal

The Enron scandal is undoubtedly one of the most famous corporate scandals of all time.

The situation started in early 2001, when analysts questioned the accounts presented in the company’s previous annual report. These accounts used a variety of irregular procedures, which made it difficult to work out how the company was making money – despite it apparently having a foothold in energy, commodities and telecoms among other industries. The SEC began to investigate and discovered that Enron was hiding billions of dollars in liabilities through special-purpose entities (companies it controlled), which enabled it to appear profitable even though it was actually hemorrhaging cash.

The company’s share price fell from $90.56 to under a dollar as the crisis unfolded, with Enron forced to file for what was then the biggest chapter-11 bankruptcy in history.

Volkswagen emissions scandal

The Volkswagen (VW) emissions scandal – also known as ‘emissionsgate’ and ‘dieselgate’ – started in September 2015, when the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it believed VW had cheated emissions tests.

It turned out that the company had been fitting what some industry commentators described as ‘defeat devices’ to its diesel cars, which included software that would detect when the cars were undergoing laboratory testing and turn on controls to reduce nitrogen emissions. The cars would then appear to comply with the agency’s standards but, in some cases, were actually emitting up to 40 times the nitrogen dioxide limit when driving on the road.

This discovery led to investigations worldwide, with some estimates suggesting the scandal affected up to 11 million cars.

Trade Volkswagen shares

Volkswagen shares fell by more than a third between 16 and 28 September 2015, in the wake of the scandal.

Lehman Brothers

Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy in 2008 after falling victim to the subprime mortgage crisis.

The bank had been borrowing significant capital for many years to provide loans to those looking to buy real estate. As a result, it faced a situation where its outstanding loans exceeded its available capital many times over, meaning it would be at risk of collapse if the housing market faced a downturn. To hide this fact, the company used repurchase agreements to disguise ‘at risk’ assets. In effect, this involved ‘selling’ its liabilities to banks in the Cayman Islands with a promise to repurchase them at a later date.

As the subprime mortgage crisis took effect, Lehman Brothers found itself unable to repay its debt as clients were defaulting on their loans. More than 70% of its value was wiped out in the first half of 2008 alone and the company was forced to file for bankruptcy in September of that year.

BP scandal

Next on our list is the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010, which saw BP’s share price fall dramatically.

The crisis started in April 2010 when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, causing oil to gush into the sea. Unfortunately, initial efforts to stem the flow failed and it took months for BP to find a solution that worked. By the time the well was cut off in July, approximately 4.9 million barrels of oil had spilled into the ocean, making this the worst accidental oil spill of all time.

The effects were devastating for the local ecosystem, wildlife and locals, and BP has been forced to pay billions of dollars in compensation since the crisis.

Trade BP shares

BP shares fell from 20 April to late June 2010, before recovering some of their value as the flow of oil was finally contained in July 2010.

Uber scandal

Uber is no stranger to controversy. In recent years, there have been multiple accusations of sexual harassment at the firm and questions over its ‘stop-at-nothing’ approach to expansion. The latter allegedly saw it using illegal technology to evade law enforcement, poach drivers from competitors and spy on users.

However, it was ultimately accusations regarding Uber’s ‘bro’ culture that proved to be the biggest scandal, and led to the resignation of CEO Travis Kalanick in June 2017. The allegations included complaints that senior members of staff had made sexist jokes and visited a brothel in Seoul. Even though some were not proven, the claims affected the price of the company’s shares, which were traded privately at the time.

With Uber building towards an initial public offering (IPO), the company brought in a new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, to clean up its image and create a new culture. It listed in May 2019 at $45 per share, giving it a market capitalization of $69.7 billion.

Trade Uber shares

Apple scandal

The biggest scandal to hit Apple in recent years is undoubtedly the ‘batterygate’ of December 2017.

This started when a Reddit user reported that a software update had reduced the performance of their iPhone but that this had corrected itself when they replaced the battery. This post led to a lot of press coverage, with some commentators suggesting that Apple was trying to force users to upgrade by deliberately slowing devices as they aged. Tim Cook issued a statement on the matter a week after the news broke, confirming that the software was designed to throttle performance but claiming that the intent was only to prevent unexpected shutdowns, which could affect devices with older batteries. The company offered a discount on battery replacements as a gesture of goodwill for those affected.

Trade Apple shares

Apple’s shares fell from 22 to 29 December in the wake of the scandal, before regaining their value in early January 2018.

Facebook scandal

Facebook’s biggest scandal hit in March 2018, when the Guardian and New York Times reported that a firm called Global Science Research had harvested data from millions of Facebook users in 2013 – without their explicit consent.

This was possible because a previous version of Facebook’s privacy policy had allowed apps to access data about users’ friends – such as their name, birthday and location. This had enabled Global Science Research to gather information about 87 million Facebook users even though only around 30,000 people had actually used their app. These details were later sold to Cambridge Analytica, who used it to create highly-targeted ads to encourage users to vote for Trump and Brexit.

The furore surrounding this scandal was so serious that Mark Zuckerberg was called to answer questions in front of Congress in the US.

Trade Facebook shares

Facebook shares fell dramatically from 17 to 26 March 2018 in the wake of the scandal.

Valeant Pharmaceuticals scandal

The Valeant Pharmaceuticals scandal started in August 2015 when Bernie Sanders and other congressmen asked the company to explain why it had raised the price of two drugs.

Investigations showed that the company’s strategy had been to acquire small pharmaceutical companies and raise the prices of their drugs, rather than investing in its own R&D. This led to public outcry and a fall in the company’s share price. The scandal deepened in October when it was alleged that Valeant controlled a chain of pharmacies called Philidor, and had abused this position to inflate the size of its order book and report higher profits. The company has since changed its name to Bausch Health Companies Inc.

Trade Valeant shares

Valeant shares fell by more than two-thirds between mid-August and mid-November 2015.

Kobe Steel scandal

The Kobe Steel scandal started in October 2017 when the company revealed that it had falsified data about the quality of its aluminium, steel and copper products.

These had been used by hundreds of major companies including Toyota, Honda, Subaru and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, leading to concerns over product safety. The Central Japan Railway Company, for example, found that 310 parts included in its bullet trains did not meet the agreed standards. The scandal led to a major dip in Kobe Steel’s share price and the resignation of CEO Hiroya Kawasaki. The company’s March 2018 report on the scandal found that it had ‘a management style that overemphasized profitability, and […] inadequate corporate governance.’

Equifax

Equifax is one of the ‘big three’ credit agencies, sitting alongside Experian and TransUnion.

In September 2017, the company became aware of a major security breach, which it said could affect around 145 million of its US consumers plus many more around the world. The data stolen included names, social security numbers, birth dates and addresses – information typically used by banks and other financial institutions to confirm identities. Many of the consumers who were affected by the breach could therefore become victims of identity theft in the future, making this one of the most serious breaches of personal data in recent years.

Equifax shares fell by a third in just eight days after the data breach was made public.

How to trade a corporate scandal

The key to trading any corporate scandal is to understand the effect it could have the company’s bottom line and brand equity. This involves carrying out fundamental analysis of the company, its business model and other factors that could affect its valuation – such as potential fines for wrongdoing and the state of the economy.

Learn how to conduct fundamental and technical analysis in IG Academy.

A typical strategy would be to go short on the market in anticipation of its price falling when the potential scandal is first reported, and long as the company takes steps to address the issues in anticipation of a recovery. You should therefore pay attention to the news and adjust your fundamental analysis as the scandal develops.

To start trading corporate scandals, open a CFD trading.


This information has been prepared by IG, a trading name of IG Markets Limited. In addition to the disclaimer below, the material on this page does not contain a record of our trading prices, or an offer of, or solicitation for, a transaction in any financial instrument. IG accepts no responsibility for any use that may be made of these comments and for any consequences that result. No representation or warranty is given as to the accuracy or completeness of this information. Consequently any person acting on it does so entirely at their own risk. Any research provided does not have regard to the specific investment objectives, financial situation and needs of any specific person who may receive it. It has not been prepared in accordance with legal requirements designed to promote the independence of investment research and as such is considered to be a marketing communication. Although we are not specifically constrained from dealing ahead of our recommendations we do not seek to take advantage of them before they are provided to our clients.

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