KPMG, Goldman Sachs Faulted in Investor Suit Over SVB Failure
First complaint to name auditor and underwriters as defendants
KPMG approved annual report weeks before disclosure, suit says
April 8, 2023
KPMG LLP was sued as Silicon Valley Bank’s auditor, along with underwriters including Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Bank of America Corp. and Morgan Stanley & Co. in an investor lawsuit based on alleged misstatements leading to the bank’s collapse.
Similar to previous suits, a complaint filed Friday in the federal court in San Francisco names Silicon Valley Bank Chief Executive Officer Greg Becker and other bank directors and officers as defendants. The complaint appears to be the first to target the bank’s auditors and underwriters.
Collectively, the defendants “misrepresented the strength of the company’s balance sheet, liquidity, and position in the market,” according to the lawsuit. The executives, auditor and underwriters “understated and concealed the magnitude of the risks” facing the bank, which undermined the value of its own securities portfolio, it said.
KPMG, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley and Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, Inc., which is named as an underwriter defendant, didn’t return emails late Friday seeking comment on the lawsuit.
SVB collapsed last month following bets on bonds that lost value as interest rates rose. Its venture capital clients began drawing down deposits en masse, forcing the lender to sell assets at losses and setting off a panicked run on the bank. SVB’s parent company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Friday’s lawsuit claims the underwriters issued misleading registration statements on the bank’s stock offerings that contained “untrue statements of material facts.”
KPMG’s alleged liability, explained in greater detail, is based in part on the fact that it signed off on SVB’s 2022 annual report two weeks before the March 8 market close, according to the suit. That was when the bank said it was seeking to raise $2.25 billion to address its liquidity problems, and announced an approximately $1.8 billion loss on the sale of its own securities.
“Even though SVB’s deposits began to decline in 2022, falling $25 billion during the final nine months of 2022 and reducing SVB’s liquidity, KPMG did not identify risks associated with SVB’s declining deposits or SVB’s ability to hold debt securities to maturity in its report,” according to the suit.
Additionally, KPMG’s audit report “was silent” about whether there was “substantial doubt” about the bank’s ability “to continue as a going concern for a reasonable period of time,” it said.
The Justice Department, Securities and Exchange Commission and Federal Reserve are examining issues around SVB’s collapse, including share sales by officers and the absence of a risk officer at the bank for much of 2022, according to people familiar with the matter. No one at the bank has been accused of wrongdoing and the investigations could end without charges or lawsuits being brought.
The case is City of Hialeah Employees Retirement System et al v. Becker, 23-cv-01697, US District Court for the Northern District of California (San Francisco).