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    EuSpRIG Horror Stories      
Spreadsheet mistakes - news stories

Public reports of spreadsheet errors have been sought out on behalf of EuSpRIG by Patrick O’Beirne of Systems Modeling for many years. There are very many reports of spreadsheet related errors and they seem to appear in the global media at a fairly consistent rate.

These stories illustrate common problems that occur with the uncontrolled use of spreadsheets. In many cases, we identify the area of risk involved and then say how we think the problem might have been avoided.

Stories identified by FH were kindly collated and tagged by Felienne Hermans (winner of the 2011 David Chadwick student prize. Stories identified by NS were kindly collated and sorted by Tie Cheng, a EuSpRIG committee member.
Identifier: POB1301
Title: Report identifies lack of spreadsheet controls, pressure to approve
Organization: JP Morgan
Region: EU
Release Date: 18 January 2013
Risk: Lowering estimate of VaR in Basel II models
Tags: Financial
Spreadsheet Causes: Logic not reviewed, manual copy/paste operations

See pages 131-132 of the JP Morgan Task Force Report "...further errors were discovered in the Basel II.5 model, including, most significantly, an operational error in the calculation of the relative changes in hazard rates and correlation estimates. Specifically, after subtracting the old rate from the new rate, the spreadsheet divided by their sum instead of their average, as the modeler had intended. This error likely had the effect of muting volatility by a factor of two and of lowering the VaR"

As reported in "A tempest in a spreadsheet" Lisa Pollack comments "On a number of occasions, he asked the trader to whom he reported for additional resources to support his work on the VaR model, but he did not receive any. Also it appears that he (had to?) cut a number of corners, which resulted increased operational risk and artificially low volatility numbers ... pressure was put on the reviewers to get on with approving the model"

Identifier: POB1302
Title: Researchers embarrassed after student finds error in their published paper
Organization: Harvard University / University of Massachusetts Amherst
Region: USA
Release Date: 16 April 2013
Risk: Academic discredit; possible damage or discredit to economic policies that cited their paper as justification of austerity
Tags: Financial, economics
Spreadsheet Causes: Formula omits cells in an average, logic not peer reviewed

"In a paper, 'Does High Public Debt Consistently Stifle Economic Growth? A Critique of Reinhart and Rogoff,' Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash, and Robert Pollin of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst criticise a 2010 paper by Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, 'Growth in a Time of Debt.' They find three main issues: First, Reinhart and Rogoff selectively exclude years of high debt and average growth. Second, they use a debatable method to weight the countries. Third, there also appears to be a coding error that excludes high-debt and average-growth countries. All three bias in favor of their result, and without them you don't get their controversial result."

At one point R&R set cell L51 equal to AVERAGE(L30:L44) when the correct procedure was AVERAGE(L30:L49). They left Denmark, Canada, Belgium, Austria, and Australia out of the average. When you fix the Excel error, a -0.1 percent growth rate turns into 0.2 percent growth. See the article for a picture of the error.

Identifier: FH1203
Title: AstraZeneca spreadsheet slip-up forces reiteration of mid-term financial forecasts
Organization: AstraZeneca
Region: EU
Release Date: 09 January 2012
Risk: Firm's shares down 0.4 percent
Tags: Confidentiality
Spreadsheet Causes: Confidential data embedded in template

Britain's second largest drugmaker AstraZeneca (AZN.L) was forced to reiterate its 2011 and mid-term financial forecasts on Monday after inadvertently releasing confidential company information to analysts. The Anglo-Swedish firm, …. described the released details as "out of date planning information" which it said did not represent its forecast for the full year for 2011 or for future periods.

AstraZeneca …. said the mistaken information had slipped out during "a routine consensus collection process."

"Confidential company information was inadvertently embedded in a spreadsheet template sent to the sell-side analyst community that follows the company," its statement said.

Identifier: FH1204
Title: Spreadsheets behind Olympic data misentry
Organization: London 2012 Olympics
Region: EU
Release Date: 04 January 2012
Tags: DataEntry
Spreadsheet Causes: Manual data entry

The London 2012 organising committee (Locog) confirmed on Wednesday that a decidedly unsynchronised error in its ticketing process had led to four synchronised swimming sessions being oversold by 10,000 tickets.

Locog and its ticket agent Ticketmaster spent the Christmas period contacting ticket holders and offering them alternatives, starting with tickets for sports they had applied for but been unsuccessful.

Locog said the error occurred in the summer, between the first and second round of ticket sales, when a member of staff made a single keystroke mistake and entered ‘20,000’ into a spreadsheet rather than the correct figure of 10,000 remaining tickets. The error was discovered when Locog reconciled the number of tickets sold against the final layouts and seating configurations for venues, and began contacting ticket holders before Christmas.

Identifier: FH1218
Title: Interest calculation low by $400,000
Organization: West Baraboo (Municipality)
Region: USA
Release Date: 09 December 2011
Discrepancies: 400,000
Risk: Underestimation of costs
Tags: Government
Spreadsheet Causes: Bad formula

Due to a calculating error by their financial advisors, West Baraboo officials learned Thursday they will be paying about $400,0000 more over the lifetime of their most recent 10-year borrowing plan than originally projected.

During its regular December meeting, the West Baraboo Village Board looked back over last month's decision to sell $1.1 million in general obligation bonds to cover a variety of village projects, said Village Clerk Mary Klingenmeyer. The review was required after the board received a letter from its financial advisory firm, Ehelers of Brookfield.

Ehlers advisor James Mann said "operator error" resulted in a spreadsheet underestimating the total cost of the 10-year bond.

"When we re-looked at the numbers we discovered a cell was not across the line being added correctly," he said. "So it understated the impact."

Identifier: FH1219
Title: Test errors impede History applications
Organization: Oxford University Faculty of History
Region: EU
Release Date: 07 December 2011
Risk: False examination results
Tags: Education
Spreadsheet Causes: Bad formula

Prospective History students were late in being told whether they had interviews this year, after the History Aptitude Test examiners mixed up marks and candidate numbers.

The History Aptitude Test (HAT) forms part of the entrance procedure for History undergraduate courses at Oxford University. Andrea Hopkins, a representative for the History Faculty, explained to Cherwell that “errors [had] occurred where markers had incorrectly transcribed the candidate's number,” upon entering each candidate number and corresponding mark onto a spreadsheet. Each examiner’s spreadsheet was then compiled to create a larger spreadsheet for all of the 1613 applicants.

Identifier: FH1202
Title: Bad spreadsheet link: $6 million error and $12,500 audit fee
Organization: Knox County Trustee's Office
Region: USA
Release Date: 03 December 2011
Discrepancies: 6,000,000
Risk: Additional audit costs
Tags: Government; OveraMillion
Spreadsheet Causes: Bad link

The auditor in late October discovered what officials called a $6 million accounting error. KPMG officials also said the Trustee's Office took too long — four weeks — to compile information that makes up the office's portion of the county's financial statements and that it "was significantly out of balance." The auditor did not respond Friday to an interview request.

Knox County Trustee John Duncan III initially said the error was the result of a software problem. Then he said it was human error and a "simple mistake."

He said the reports his office sent to KPMG didn't include one account, which threw off his department's financial statements. The total cash on hand for June 30 that the office should have reported was $128.9 million, he said, and not $122.7 million, which was what was sent to the auditor. It occurred when one account wasn't correctly linked into an Excel spreadsheet.

Identifier: FH1213
Title: County overlooks, then finds, taxable property worth $1.26 billion
Organization: Kern County
Region: USA
Release Date: 25 November 2011
Discrepancies: 12,000,000
Risk: Underestimation of tax
Tags: Government
Spreadsheet Causes: Wrong spreadsheet

County overlooks, then finds, taxable property worth $1.26 billion.

Twenty-five thousand acres seems like a lot of property for the county tax assessor's office to have overlooked last summer. And this wasn't just any land. It was one of Kern's most valuable oil fields, generating about $12 million a year for taxpayers. Fortunately, the oversight was spotted in time and corrected. County Assessor-Recorder Jim Fitch blamed the mistake on a clerical error by an experienced staffer who used the wrong spreadsheet to calculate Occidental Petroleum Corp.'s tax bill for property it owns in Elk Hills.

Identifier: FH1201
Title: Securities and Exchange committee itself relies on spreadsheets.
Organization: Securities and Exchange Commission
Region: USA
Release Date: 16 November 2011
Risk: Systemic Financial Collapse
Tags: Government
Spreadsheet Causes: Systemic Overdependence

In a recent audit by the Government Accountability Office, they noted the following: "As we have reported in prior audits, SEC's general ledger system and certain software applications and configurations are not designed to provide the accurate, complete, and timely transaction-level data needed to accumulate and readily report reliable financial information. Instead, the initiation and recording of significant transactions is accomplished through the use of spreadsheets, databases, manual workarounds, and data handling that rely on significant analysis, reconciliation, and review to calculate amounts for the general ledger posting of transactions." Their financial reporting is still heavily based on spreadsheets: "This process area continues to have a significant deficiency in FY 2011. Many of the agency’s financial reporting processes are still manual in nature and reliant on spreadsheets and databases to both initiate transactions and perform key control functions. " And some of the spreadsheets were even linked to errors that were found: "In addition, we noted that a spreadsheet error resulted in incorrect amounts for SEC's legal liability and lease liability disclosed in the notes to SEC's interim financial statements [....] These and other errors we found point to a lack of effective review procedures, which are even more critical given SEC's heavy dependence on spreadsheets and error-prone manual data entry for its financial reporting and accounting processes. " Their CFO promises to improve this in the coming year: "...redesigning and implementing controls over the spreadsheets and databases used by the agency for material financial reporting-related transactions and key operational management decisions, based on risk; "

Identifier: FH1220
Title: $350,000 fine for a spreadsheet error
Organization: Arizona Portland Cement Corporation (cement factory)
Region: USA
Release Date: 08 November 2011
Discrepancies: 350,000
Risk: Money Loss
Tags: Commercial

In 2006, the company paid the state $300,000 to settle a case involving emitting air pollution, failing to submit test reports, and not installing temperature monitors.

In January, the EPA fined Arizona Portland $350,000 for an expansion plan that would have exceeded emissions for particulate matter. The plant was ordered to reduce expected annual emissions by 80,000 pounds by adding $6.7 million of control equipment to the plan.

Although the EPA still lists the company as a high-priority violator, there never was a physical violation and the entire episode was sparked by a math error, said Steve Regis, vice president of engineering for CalPortland, Arizona Portland's parent company.

"Our consultant had an error in his spreadsheet, and we submitted the permit application using his data. We are in compliance. We were always in compliance," Regis said.

Identifier: FH1217
Title: 1,791 voters inflated to 4,870
Organization: Pueblo County
Region: USA
Release Date: 04 November 2011
Risk: False Elections
Tags: Government

Thursday, Ortiz ultimately agreed with Gessler that the state database showed 1,791 inactive ballots were returned in Pueblo County. Ortiz blamed simple counting errors in his office for his inaccurate number. The state computer data is cumbersome to read, so Ortiz's office converted its display to a different form of spreadsheet. That's where the counting error occurred, the clerk said. Anytime there is a dispute over tallying votes, it always raises suspicions about possible voter fraud.

Identifier: FH1210
Title: $1M went missing as staff managed "monstrous spreadsheets."
Organization: Town of Framingham (municipality)
Region: USA
Release Date: 15 October 2011
Discrepancies: 12,000,000
Risk: Money Loss
Tags: Government

The town mistakenly reckoned it had $1.5 million more in this year's budget than it actually has and must now use $600,000 in unexpected state aid to help fill that gap, officials said yesterday.

Chief Financial Officer Mary Ellen Kelley said she takes responsibility for the mistake, which she found Wednesday night on the debt services line item in the $208.6 million fiscal 2012 operating budget. She said a figure went missing as staff managed "monstrous spreadsheets."

"It's frustrating," Kelley said yesterday. "I hate when we make mistakes. People are human and they do make mistakes, but I hate it."

Identifier: FH1216
Title: £4.3M spreadsheet error leads to resignation of its chief executive
Organization: Mouchel (Outsourcing specialist)
Region: EU
Release Date: 07 October 2011
Discrepancies: 4,300,000
Risk: Too high income expectation
Tags: Commercial

An accounting error yesterday forced outsourcing specialist Mouchel into a major profits warning and sparked the resignation of its chief executive.

Richard Cuthbert stood down as analysts warned the firm was in danger of breaking banking agreements on debt after it had to reduce full-year profits by more than £8.5million to below £6million.

The mistake was not Cuthbert’s, however, but an outside firm of actuaries. It told the company on Wednesday that a spreadsheet error meant a pension fund deficit had been wrongly valued. As a result, Mouchel had to write down profits by £4.3million.

Identifier: FH1221
Title: State Auditor of Kentucky: bad smells from Sanitation District #1
Organization: SD1 (Sanitary District #1, Kentucky Sewage Water treatment)
Region: USA
Release Date: 17 August 2011
Risk: Overestimation of costs
Tags: Government
Spreadsheet Causes: Bad formula

During the course of the examination, auditors noted several instances of accounting errors and apparent lax accounting controls and oversight. The specific instances involved errors in a spreadsheet allocating labor costs to projects, significant accounting entries made without proper review or documentation, and errors in the rate setting model.

SD1 calculated the labor costs to be charged to a particular project using an Excel spreadsheet containing a formula which multiplied the hours by the applicable rates. The formula was in error resulting in 151 projects being charged excessive labor costs. SD1’s failure to recognize such a significant error in labor allocation calls into question the quality and frequency of accounting review and oversight.

Identifier: FH1207
Title: Clallam County cashier hides rows in a spreadsheet to cover up theft
Organization: Clallam County
Region: USA
Release Date: 20 July 2011
Discrepancies: 617,467
Risk: Money Loss
Tags: Government;Trail;Theft
Spreadsheet Causes: Hidden Rows

Betts, ….., is charged with first-degree theft, money laundering and 19 counts of filing false or fraudulent tax returns with the state Department of Revenue. Betts is accused of stealing the funds by exchanging checks for real estate excise taxes with money from the office’s cash drawer.

The actual amount taken cannot be determined, state Auditor’s Office fraud investigator Jim Brittain said in his report, but he cited “questionable transactions” during the audit period of Feb. 1, 2004, to May 19, 2009, of $793,595. The amount taken was placed in hidden rows in her spreadsheets that weren’t discovered until Betts allegedly confessed to supervisors May 19, 2009, of stealing about $1,200.

Identifier: FH1215
Title: MI5 makes 1,061 bugging errors
Organization: MI5 (secret intelligence)
Region: EU
Release Date: 01 July 2011
Risk: False information
Tags: Government
Spreadsheet Causes: wrong cell format

MI5 wrongly collected subscriber data on 134 telephone numbers as a result of a software error, according to interception of communications commissioner Sir Paul Kennedy's annual report.

A spreadsheet formatting error caused the service to apply for data on the identity of telephone numbers ending in 000, rather than the actual last three digits. "The subscriber data acquired had no connection or relevance to any investigation or operation being undertaken by the Security Service," writes Kennedy.

Identifier: FH1228
Title: Major Blunder By Norwegian Central Bank Gives People Totally Wrong Impression About Interest Rates
Organization: Norwegian Central Bank
Region: EU
Release Date: 28 June 2011
Risk: False rent percentage
Tags: Bank
Spreadsheet Causes: Typo

It turns out that last week, the Norwegian central bank put out a spreadsheet indicating a 60-70% change of rate hikes in either August or September. Turns out that was a sloppy mistake.

According to this translated article from, the mistake was identified, and the number was changed to 100%, without a big press release or any other notification that such an error had been made.

Identifier: FH1227
Title: King’s Fund apologise for “error” in figures on health spending in Wales
Organization: The King's Fund (health charity)
Region: EU
Release Date: 27 May 2011
Risk: Overestimation of costs
Tags: Charity

Respected health think tank, The King’s Fund has been forced to write to the Welsh government to apologise for errors in figures it produced on health spending in Wales. On Wednesday, media outlets declared that Wales faced deeper spending cuts to the health service than the rest of the UK, with King’s Fund chief economist John Appleby, in an article for the British Medical Journal, arguing the health service budget in Wales faced cuts of up to 11 per cent over three years. However, in a letter to Welsh health minister Lesley Griffiths, Mr Appleby retracted the figure, writing:

“Dear Ms Griffiths

British Medical Journal Data Briefing: Correction

As you will be aware, there has been some media interest following a data briefing I wrote for the BMJ on NHS spending in the four UK nations. I am writing to let you know of a correction to the article.

“The article originally stated that Wales would receive a 10.7 per cent real terms cut in NHS spending over the next four years. It should have stated that this is over three years. This was corrected on the BMJ web site. Unfortunately, a spreadsheet error which was only noticed after publication also exaggerated the real change in Wales’ NHS spending. The correct figure is -8.3% by 2013/14 (compared with 2010/11) and not -10.7%.

The BMJ will publish a correction to my article but I also wanted to set the record straight with you and apologise for any confusion this has caused.

Yours sincerely,

John Appleby, Chief Economist, The King’s Fund”

Identifier: FH1226
Title: Computer errs in tally
Organization: Morgantown (municipality)
Region: USA
Release Date: 29 April 2011
Risk: False Elections
Tags: Government
Spreadsheet Causes: Bad formula

Morgantown City Clerk Linda Little said a computer error led to a discrepancy in vote totals for council candidate George Papandreas.

The candidate -- who was defeated by incumbent Ron Bane -- actually received 99 more votes than was originally indicated in the total listed on the city's unofficial results. Papandreas said he had no issue with the error. The error was corrected by Thursday morning, after The Dominion Post contacted Little about it Wednesday night. The city clerk's office had originally reported Papandreas, a 1st Ward candidate, received 935 votes in the city's election. The report, a spreadsheet which included vote totals for each of the city's 17 precincts, was given to The Dominion Post Wednesday.

The Dominion Post added the totals for each precinct and determined he had 1,034 votes.

Little said election officials had put the total number of votes for each precinct into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. The computer program skipped over an entry when it added the totals, she said.

Identifier: FH1225
Title: AXA Rosenberg paying $242M to settle case on code
Organization: AXA Rosenberg
Region: USA
Release Date: 03 February 2011
Discrepancies: 242,000,000
Risk: Overestimation of losses
Tags: Commercial

An investment firm is paying $242 million to settle civil fraud charges that it hid an error in its computer code that resulted in losses for its clients, federal regulators said Thursday.

The settlement with AXA Rosenberg Group announced by the Securities and Exchange Commission is among the largest for the agency and is the first of its kind.

The SEC said senior managers at two AXA Rosenberg affiliates knew about an error in the code for the quantitative investment model used to manage clients' assets. The agency says the error disabled a key element of the model for managing risk. The agency said senior managers ordered others to conceal the error and failed to fix it, causing $217 million in client losses.

AXA Rosenberg, based in Orinda, Calif., is owned by French insurance company AXA SA. AXA Rosenberg, neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing in settling the case but did agree to refrain from future violations of the securities laws.

The use of quantitative models has proliferated on Wall Street.

"To protect trade secrets, quantitative investment managers often isolate their complex computer models from the firm's compliance and risk-management functions and leave oversight to a few sophisticated programmers," SEC Enforcement Director Robert Khuzami said in a statement. "The secretive structure and lack of oversight of quantitative investment models, as this case demonstrates, cannot be used to conceal errors and betray investors."

The SEC said the error came into the computer model in April 2007. It was eventually corrected, but the CEO of AXA Rosenberg Group wasn't told about it until November 2009, the agency said. The firm did its own investigation and told SEC examiners about the error in March 2010. The firm's clients were informed on April 15.

AXA Rosenberg agreed in the settlement to pay investors the $217 million they were said to have lost, as well as a $25 million civil fine. The firm also agreed to hire an independent consultant in quantitative investment techniques to review its disclosures.

"We deeply regret that the coding error adversely impacted many of our clients," AXA Rosenberg's chairman, Dominique Carrel-Billiard, said in a statement. "The exhaustive review that we undertook of this matter reflects our commitment to regaining our clients' confidence and restoring trust."

The firm noted that it has made significant changes in recent months in its organization, named new executives to several top positions and put in additional measures to control risks.

Identifier: FH1212
Title: Provision for income taxes understated by $36.4 million
Organization: Georgia Gulf Corporation (chemicals company)
Region: USA
Release Date: 22 November 2010
Discrepancies: 36,400,000
Risk: Too high income expectation
Tags: Commercial
Spreadsheet Causes: Manual data entry

In …. 2010, we engaged a different third-party firm of tax professionals to assist us with the preparation of our 2009 U.S. federal income tax return. During the preparation of that tax return we, with the support of our tax advisors, identified certain issues that caused us to re-evaluate the application of the relevant provisions of the IRC relating to the 2009 financial restructuring activities. Consequently, we determined that a manual input error to a spreadsheet used in the tax calculations relating to the tax impact of our 2009 financial restructuring activities had been made and that certain applications of the relevant provisions of the IRC were incorrect. As a result, the reduction in various tax attributes resulting from the CODI we recognized in 2009 was understated. This error caused our provision for income taxes to be understated by $36.4 million and our net income to be overstated by $36.4 million, each for the year ended December 31, 2009. This adjustment did not, however, result in any additional tax liability payable by us to tax authorities in respect of 2009 or earlier periods.

Identifier: FH1211
Title: Council 'loses' £21m spreadsheet error
Organization: Denbigshire County Council
Region: EU
Release Date: 14 October 2010
Discrepancies: 21,000,000
Risk: Underestimation of assets
Tags: Government
Spreadsheet Causes: Bad formula

The clanger was discovered by Denbighshire County Council staff just before its annual audit.

In a report considered by the authority's corporate governance committee on Monday (September 27) the head of finance and assets Roger Parry said the audit was virtually complete but a revised set of accounts had been prepared. "A significant error was made in the valuation of the council's assets," he said. "Along with other adjustments this has meant a £21m (3.5 per cent) reduction in the assets shown on the council's balance sheet. "The error was picked up internally prior to the audit commencing but after the draft accounts had been produced. "Now that the valuations department has moved into the finance department a full review of all the procedures is being undertaken and a significantly improved process will be implemented for the 2010-2011 accounts production."

A council spokeswoman explained later that the discrepancy had occurred because of an error on a spreadsheet where some assets had been double-counted.

Identifier: FH1224
Title: Light Dept. Memo Defends Substation Team, Cost Increases
Organization: Belmont Municipal Light Department
Region: USA
Release Date: 22 September 2010
Risk: Underestimation of costs
Tags: Government
Spreadsheet Causes: Manual data entry

The head of the town's electrical utility is the subject of serious accusations of mismanagement and stonewalling information on a nearly 20 percent increase in the cost of the 115 kV transmission substation the BMLD has fought long to bring online….

in the memo – referencing the "Recent 115kV Cost Impact" – sent after the Sept. 8 meeting of the Advisory Board but before his meeting with the independent group on Sept. 13, Richardson acknowledged that unspecific cost increases was going to ratchet up the total cost for the new substation to $47 million. That would be a $9 million increase from the long accepted price tag of $38 million the BMLD announced in June …..

In addition to accepting an incorrect amount, Selectman and Light Board member Ralph Jones said for the error to be caught after an initial $38 million cost estimate was made public in June, "shows that they failed on quality control." Ralph said it should be standard procedure for spreadsheets to be reviewed to find just these sorts of "miscalculations."

Identifier: FH1223
Title: Millions undisclosed by TX congressman
Organization: Personal Financial disclosure report of congresmember Michael McCaul
Region: USA
Release Date: 15 September 2010
Risk: Bad Publicity
Tags: Government
Spreadsheet Causes: Manual data entry

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the ranking Republican on a U.S. House ethics subcommittee, is admitting his accounting firm made “clerical errors” worth millions, thus failing to fully disclose his finances. Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, detailed missing information about dozens of stock transactions made by McCaul’s wife. McCaul has said a spreadsheet his accountants, Millan & Company, prepared actually cut off stocks that began with the letter “E,” all the way to the letter “Z.” The full electronic statement was actually disclosed to the ethics subcommittee prior to the firm's printing. The firm released a statement, saying the error was “inadvertent and unintentional.”

Identifier: FH1229
Title: Blatant Data Error At The Federal Reserve
Organization: Federal Reserve (USA central bank)
Region: USA
Release Date: 01 August 2010
Risk: False information
Tags: Bank
Spreadsheet Causes: Copy paste

A vigilant reader, who combed through the backup of today's Consumer Credit G.19 statement points out a flagrant and obvious error in the Fed's data. While luckily the data impact is not major (at most $4 billion, which in our day and age is a pithy 50% of Goldman's FICC trading desk bonus), the implication that the Fed does not check its work in something as critical as one of the core data series (or at least it used to be until a few machines took over the market, to whom, as today indicated, a record credit contraction somehow ended up being a positive event) is very, very troubling.

The original, Fed-hosted excel file with the backing data of the actual G.19 statement can be found here. We welcome all readers to compare cells AC 804 through AC 809, which is the data for "Consumer Revolving Credit Owned by Nonfinancial Business, Not Seasonally Adjusted" for the months June through November of 2009, and to compare it with data in cells AC 792 through AC 797, which is comparable data for the months June through November of 2008. These are identical and very much wrong! So, dear Fed auditors, while you obviously are very highly overpaid for your error-proofing work, can you please tell us what the real Consumer Credit number for November is?

Identifier: FH1222
Title: Hungary's Central Services Directorate fined for misleading spreadsheet
Organization: Central Services Directorate (an organisation which manages procurement for ministeries and other governmental organisations)
Region: EU
Release Date: 28 June 2010
Discrepancies: 2,000,000
Risk: Money Loss
Tags: Government
Spreadsheet Causes: Misleading sheet

Hungary's Public Procurement Arbitration Board (KDB) has invalidated the results of a tender called by the Central Services Directorate and ordered it to pay HUF 2 million because of a misleading spreadsheet provided to bidders.

Bidders received a spreadsheet with two columns and were to fill in the first one, while the second was filled in automatically. However, 25 of the 28 bidders misunderstood the spreadsheet and manually filled in the second column. The directorate must evaluate the bids again.

Identifier: FH1234
Title: Ex-county workers consider suit over reduced retirement
Organization: Albemarle County
Region: USA
Release Date: 25 March 2010
Discrepancies: 66,000
Risk: Money Loss
Tags: Government

Former Albemarle employees who say they’ve been cheated out of money by the county are considering taking legal action against the local government, according to former police Officer Ron Kesner. The county has offered employees monthly stipends in exchange for retiring early as a way to reduce personnel expenses. However, officials say a miscalculation caused them to offer 42 employees more money than intended. While the county is not making the employees pay back money they’ve received, the retirees are receiving less than they had been promised.

“All I want is what’s fair,” said Juanita Irvine, a former senior family support worker for the county’s social services department. “I made my decision to retire based on their figures.” Kesner said that affected retirees are hoping to resolve the discrepancy with county officials and are considering legal action only as a “last resort.”

Officials have estimated that the mistake cost the county $66,000 in overpayments; had the error not been corrected, the county would have been out $360,000. Questions about precisely how the stipends were miscalculated and who was to blame remain unanswered.

Kimberly Suyes, director of the county’s Human Resources Department, said there was a “miscalculation in the spreadsheet. There’s not much more.” An employee in Human Resources made the error. Suyes declined to say whether the employee who made the error was fired.

Identifier: FH1235
Title: NAMB corrects missionary count data to GCR Task Force
Organization: North American Mission Board
Region: USA
Release Date: 09 March 2010
Risk: False information
Spreadsheet Causes: Bad formula

The North American Mission Board has informed the Great Commission Task Force that data it provided last summer regarding the geographic distribution of missionaries in North America contained a significant error. The NAMB error resulted in incorrect data being published….

The error occurred when NAMB double-counted the states of Texas and Virginia. Both states have two, independently operated state Baptist conventions with which Southern Baptists are affiliated. The data spreadsheet used listed each of those state conventions with their individual subtotals and also an overall total from the state. Both the subtotals and the totals from those states were added when the overall missionary count was computed, leading to a double-count for the two states.

Identifier: FH1209
Title: Spreadsheet error costs time and money, yet again
Organization: ISTA (gas water electricity provider)
Region: USA
Release Date: 05 March 2010
Discrepancies: 270
Risk: Too high customer bills
Tags: DataEntry; Commercial
Spreadsheet Causes: Manual data entry

Back in November, I got my first water, sewage, and gas bill from a company called ISTA. My apartment management had taken a while to set up the billing after the previous billing company went of business (or dropped the contract, I don’t remember exactly what happened). So I hadn’t actually paid water and sewage for two or three months.

So when the bill came for $173, I wasn’t too surprised. I didn’t really remember what I’d paid the previous year, but this seemed reasonable for a few months of water, sewage and gas. I wrote the check, and forgot about ISTA.

Forty five days later, I got the next bill, but this time something seemed wrong: $463 and it had only been a month and a half. What the hell was going on? I looked back on my old bills and noticed that my average 30 day bill was about $30, even in the winter. Either the company was trying to extort money from me or somebody had made an accounting error.

I looked more closely at the bill, which had three columns: previous usage, current usage, and usage. The difference between the first two columns was exactly 1000. The value in the third column was 10,000. Was there some hidden multiplier I didn’t understand? Maybe there was some rate that just happened to be 10, and I had just kept my apartment and showers really warm this winter.

So I called ISTA and disputed the bill. They immediately escalated it to their dispute manager, who called me back after a few days. They said that there had been a misread meter and that they had corrected the reading, and that after the bill was now only about $270, after they had applied the credit. When I got the call, I had a meeting to be at, so I didn’t think about it much.

After I got home that night, it still didn’t seem right. $270 for 45 days? What happened to the rates? They must have gone up by a factor of 10! So the next day, I called ISTA back, and spoke to a nice lady about my problem. Rather than call the dispute manager again, she told me she was opening my spreadsheet. She proceeded to walk through the calculations with me, describing the rates and the formulas. I jotted them down on paper as we went. Finally, we got to the final total calculation, and she said, “so this times the multiplier is … wait, it shouldn’t be.” She immediately put me on hold.

A few minutes later, she came back, saying that she needed to have the accounting department look at my spreadsheet. My spreadsheet, implying that every customer has their own. She said that the dispute manager would, yet again, call me back in a few days.

Four days later, the dispute manager called me back and explained that there was some sort of disagreement between billing and accounting, regarding the cause of the problem. Billing thought it was the spreadsheet and accounting thought it was the meter readings. She said she’d call back in a few more business days, after they’d worked out their differences.

When she did call back, she leveled with me: accounting was wrong, there was an error in the spreadsheet, and after fixing the multiplier cell, my bill was reduced by a factor of 10. After the credit calculators, they determined that I had overpaid from the previous bill by about $100, and that I probably wouldn’t have a bill for the next two cycles. She apologized for how long it took to resolve the issue, but reassured me that it wouldn’t happen to me again.

But I wasn’t thinking about me at this point. I was thinking about all of the other customers, whose spreadsheets probably had the same error. Would the accountants audit all of the spreadsheets that copied the error? How many customers would call about the bills? How many would insist, like I did, that there was a spreadsheet error, and demand that it be properly diagnosed? And how much of this feedback would ever make it to the accountants writing the buggy spreadsheets?

Identifier: FH1208
Title: Flintshire County Council school cash blunder ‘down to spreadsheet error’
Source: Flintshire County Council school cash blunder ‘down to spreadsheet error’ Source:
Organization: Flintshire County
Region: EU
Release Date: 18 February 2010
Discrepancies: 1,000,000
Risk: Money Loss
Tags: Government
Spreadsheet Causes: Manual data entry

A £1M council cash ‘cock-up’ which prompted calls for the resignation of a top Tory councillor was down to a spreadsheet error, it has been claimed.

County Hall officials have not published details of an internal investigation carried out in the wake of the blunder, which left Flintshire Council £1m out of pocket after they over-allocated money cash to the county’s 12 high schools last year.

But the Chronicle understands the mix-up occurred because someone ‘put money in the wrong column’ – and no one spotted it before the money was handed out.

Identifier: FH1206
Title: $153 million error in Department of Energy Tax spreadsheet leaves reporter searching for the truth
Organization: Department of Energy
Region: USA
Release Date: 13 January 2010
Discrepancies: 153,300,000
Tags: Government

Whose information should you trust more, an agency of the Federal government or a major solar company? In the case of the recently announced U.S. Advanced Energy Manufacturing Investment Tax Credits, the advantage goes to the private sector. Because of an error in the Department of Energy’s spreadsheet of credit recipients, a $153.3 million discrepancy has propelled REC Silicon from well down the list of tax credit recipients to the top of the charts.

Identifier: FH1205
Title: $15 million mistake: that representative doesn't work for the company anymore
Organization: Monroe County
Region: USA
Release Date: 21 November 2009
Discrepancies: 15,000,000
Risk: Too high income expectation
Tags: Government
Spreadsheet Causes: Bad Link

The financial discrepancy came to light earlier this month during a county council work session. At that time, Smith described it as a reporting error that happened when two employees switched jobs, after which the new employee in her office began using a different spreadsheet that contained a broken data link. A single entry error compounded over the past few months to make the apparent discrepancy larger, she said at the time, eventually leaving the county's books showing $15 million more than the bank said it had.

Identifier: FH1231
Title: Foutje in spreadsheet kost waterschap 2,7 miljoen
Organization: Waterschap Veluwe
Region: EU
Release Date: 01 September 2009
Discrepancies: 2,700,000
Risk: Money Loss
Tags: Government

Het Waterschap Veluwe moet 2,7 miljoen euro interen op zijn reserves omdat het een te lage heffing heeft opgelegd aan eigenaren van woningen en bedrijfspanden. Dat komt door een foutje, meldt het waterschap. In een spreadsheet zijn per ongeluk twee velden omgewisseld, waardoor de aanslag zo'n vijf procent lager uitvalt.

De gemiddelde eigenaar betaalt hierdoor tien tot negentien euro minder waterschapslasten over dit jaar. Huurders hebben geen voordeel van het foutje, doordat de heffing voor hen niet geldt. Het waterschap heeft ervoor gekozen het misgelopen geld niet later alsnog in rekening te brengen. "Volgend jaar vragen we weer het normale bedrag, en we gooien er geen schepje bovenop."

Het geld wordt uit de zogenoemde egalisatiereserve geput. "Dat potje moet voorkomen dat we de waterschapslasten opeens flink opschroeven als we bijvoorbeeld nieuwe gemalen nodig hebben", legt de zegsman uit.

In een folder bij de belastingaanslag wordt uitgelegd dat de lasten volgend jaar stijgen. Het foutje heeft niet tot ontslagen geleid. "Het bestuur heeft maandag besloten dat dit nou eenmaal kan gebeuren. Wel gaan we na hoe we herhaling kunnen voorkomen."

Identifier: NS01
Source: C&C Group admit to mistake in revenue results
Organization: C&C
Release Date: Jul-09
Discrepancies: 11% of sales for the four months to the end June

Shares in C&C fell 15 per cent after it said total revenue in the four months to end-June had not risen 3 per cent as reported, but had dropped 5 per cent. C&C said cider revenues in the UK had fallen 12 per cent, not 1 per cent, while cider revenues in Ireland were flat instead of up 7 per cent as reported last week. C&C’s group finance director and COO said the error in last week’s announcement occurred after data were incorrectly transferred from an accounting system used for internal guidance to a spreadsheet used to produce the trading statement. “It was basically human error… there’s nothing wrong with our accounting systems,”

Identifier: NS02
Source: FSA fines Credit Suisse £5.6m
Organization: Credit Suisse
Release Date: Aug-08

“2.33.3. The booking structure relied upon by the UK operations of Credit Suisse for the CDO trading business was complex and overly reliant on large spreadsheets with multiple entries. This resulted in a lack of transparency and inhibited the effective supervision, risk management and control of the SCG {Structured Credit Group}”

Identifier: NS03
Source: Budget discrepancies attributed to computer error
Organization: Nevada City
Release Date: Jan-06
Discrepancies: $5 million
Risk: Delay in city budgeting process, embarrassment
Avoidance: Change tracking, comparison, validation, publishing a PDF of printed version on the web

The Nevada city budget spreadsheet apparently worked correctly until sometime in late December 2005 when, city finance director Ron Chandler says, it developed a problem, causing the 2006 budget to show a $5 million deficit in the water and sewer fund. Chandler said that it took him most of the day Wednesday to fix the problem. While he was working on it he found some other errors in the spreadsheet that needed to be corrected. "Once it's a PDF it can't change," Chandler said.

Identifier: NS04
Source: Westpac jumps the gun on profit
Organization: Westpac
Release Date: Nov-05
Discrepancies: Around $10 million
Risk: Public embarrassment, loss of investor confidence
Avoidance: User training on how to remove data properly

Westpac was forced to halt trading on its shares and deliver its annual profit briefing a day early after it accidentally sent its results by email to research analysts. Details of the $2.818 billion record profit result for the 12 months to September 30, were embedded in a template of last year's results and were accessible with minor manipulation of the spreadsheet. (Some reports indicated an employee had thought that a black cell background fill would hide black text.) Mr Chronican said "It is not just one error, it is a compounding of two or three errors … We will obviously be conducting a full inquiry to make sure it doesn't happen again."

Identifier: NS05
Source: Kodak
Organization: Kodak
Release Date: Nov-05
Discrepancies: Around $10 million
Risk: Loss of share value, investor confidence, career damage
Avoidance: Data quality control

SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) - The hefty $11 million severance error was traced to a faulty spreadsheet. Kodak spokesman Gerard Meuchner said "There were too many zeros added to the employee's accrued severance. But it was an accrual. There was never a payment," he said. Robert Brust, Kodak's chief financial officer, called it ” an internal control deficiency that constitutes a material weakness that impacted the accounting for restructurings."

Identifier: NS06
Source: Go figure: 'Think-and-do tank' flubs the math
Organization: Virginia Tech
Release Date: May-05
Risk: Public embarrassment, adverse press coverage
Avoidance: Spreadsheet review

The Center for Regional Strategies recently confirmed that a researcher's errant cut-and-paste from a spreadsheet caused one measure of the region's level of educational attainment to appear a lot worse than it is. The Center for Regional Strategies, a self-described "think-and-do tank" housed at Virginia Tech, reported that a dismal 11 percent of the region's population older than 25 had bachelor's degrees or higher. That number should have been 20 percent. Stuart Mease, a spokesman for the Center for Regional Strategies, said "It was just a simple cut-and-paste error," he said. "I don't know how it happened, but it did. We apologize for our mistake and want to correct it."

Identifier: NS07
Source: RedEnvelope skids on loss forecast
Organization: RedEnvelope
Release Date: Mar-05
Risk: Loss of share value, investor confidence, career damage
Avoidance: Data quality control

Shares of RedEnvelope Inc. tumbled more than 25 percent Tuesday after the online retailer of specialty gifts drastically reduced its fourth-quarter outlook and said its chief financial officer will resign in April. Stanford Group analyst Rebecca Jones Kujawa said in an interview. "...they were underestimating the cost of goods is likely CFO Eric Wong is being pushed out because of this error, which could demonstrate a material weakness in controls over financial reporting, an issue that usually leads to a lengthy review of accounting practices." RedEnvelope spokeswoman Jordan Goldstein said the budgeting error was simply due to a number mis-recorded in one cell of a spreadsheet that then threw off the cost forecast and was unrelated to the CFO change.

Identifier: NS08
Source: University of Toledo loses $2.4M in projected revenue
Organization: University of Toledo
Release Date: May-04
Discrepancies: $2.4 million
Risk: Loss of budget
Avoidance: User training and certification

University of Toledo loses $2.4M in projected revenue. "While official UT projections call for a 10 percent decline in graduate student enrollment, an increase mistakenly was shown in a spreadsheet formula that led officials to overestimate enrollment and therefore revenue, Mr. Decatur said." "Dr. Johnson said no job action will be taken against the employee who made the mistake, who has a good performance record. Officials will, however, pursue systemic changes to provide more safeguards in the future. "We have very competent people," Dr. Johnson said. "I do think that the continuing fiscal pressures on universities have forced us to a level of staff support where there is little or no redundancy in the process."

Identifier: NS09
Source: Fannie Mae Corrects Mistakes In Results
Organization: Fannie Mae
Release Date: Oct-03
Discrepancies: $1.2 billion
Risk: Loss of shareholder confidence
Avoidance: Peer review

Fannie Mae filed a Form 8-K/A with the SEC amending their third quarter press release to correct computational errors in that release. "There were honest mistakes made in a spreadsheet used in the implementation of a new accounting standard. The bottom line is that the correction has no impact on our income statement, but resulted in increases to unrealized gains on securities, accumulated other comprehensive income, and total shareholder equity (of $1.279 billion, $1.136 billion, and $1.136 billion, respectively)... the correction had to do with a computational error in performing complicated calculations required in the implementation of FAS 149."

Identifier: NS10
Source: TransAlta Says Clerical Snafu Costs It $24 Million
Organization: TransAlta
Release Date: Jun-03
Discrepancies: $24 million
Risk: Huge financial loss
Avoidance: Peer review, double-checking outputs

TransAlta Corp. said on Tuesday it will take a $24 million charge to earnings after a bidding snafu landed it more U.S. power transmission hedging contracts than it bargained for, at higher prices than it wanted to pay. [...] the company's computer spreadsheet contained mismatched bids for the contracts, it said. "It was literally a cut-and-paste error in an Excel spreadsheet that we did not detect when we did our final sorting and ranking bids prior to submission," TransAlta chief executive Steve Snyder said in a conference call. "I am clearly disappointed over this event. The important thing is to learn from it, which we've done." As New York ISO rules did not allow for a reversal of the bids, the contracts went ahead.

Identifier: NS11
Source: Allied Irish Banks / Allfirst Currency Trading Fraud
Organization: Allied Irish Banks / Allfirst
Release Date: Mar-02
Discrepancies: $700 million
Risk: Fraud, huge financial loss
Avoidance: Peer review, double-checking outputs

Allfirst “Would not pay the US$ 10,000 for a direct data feed from Reuters to the risk control section”. Instead, they got Rusnak to download his Reuters feed into a spreadsheet. He then substituted links to his private manipulated spreadsheet. The total losses hidden by the fraud were almost US$700M. Rusnak exaggerated bonuses by over half a million dollars. Ray Butler points out in the article above that "One error in a spreadsheet will subvert all the controls in all the systems feeding into it". An auditing tool (SpACE) would have found the external links in the key spreadsheet.

Identifier: NS12
Source: Jamaican Commercial Bank Failures
Organization: Jamaican Commercial Bank
Release Date: late 1990's

“Poor control over spreadsheets at Jamaican indigenous banks contributed to management information and external reporting problems (i.e., P&L distortions) that contributed to the banks' management and external regulators losing sight of the banks' true positions and exposures. This problem fed a downward spiral into liquidity crisis”[Lemieux, 2005] “As the Jamaican financial crisis unfolded, the government also recognised that fraud and corruption had contributed to the collapse of indigenous banks. To address these allegations, it established a team of foreign and local forensic auditors to work with the police fraud squad to identify and take action on instances of fraud. Inaccessibility of source documents, however, seriously hampered the auditors' work. The work of reconstructing what in some cases were very convoluted financial transactions was made extremely difficult by the fact that critical records, many in spreadsheet form, were missing”. [Lemieux, 2005]

Identifier: NS13
Source: Computing error at Fidelity's Magellan fund
Organization: Fidelity's Magellan fund
Release Date: Jan-95
Discrepancies: $1.3 billion
Risk: loss of share value
Avoidance: independent review and comparison of source with output

"There was a big flap recently over Fidelity's Magellan fund estimating in November that they would make a $4.32/share distribution at the end of year, and then not doing so. A letter of explanation was sent to the shareholders (including me) from J. Gary Burkhead, the President of Fidelity, including the following pertinent items: "During the estimating process, a tax accountant is required to transcribe the net realized gain or loss from the fund's financial records (which were correct at all times) to a separate spreadsheet, where additional calculations are performed. The error occurred when the accountant omitted the minus sign on a net capital loss of $1.3 billion and incorrectly treated it as a net capital gain on this separate spreadsheet. This meant that the dividend estimate spreadsheet was off by $2.6 billion...

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Editing and comments copyright (c) 2003, 2004 Patrick O'Beirne, European Spreadsheet Risk Interest Group. The contents of this page may not be copied without attribution. We encourage a link to us with this description: Spreadsheet mistakes - news stories collated by the European Spreadsheet Risks Interest Group. They illustrate common problems and errors that occur with the uncontrolled use of spreadsheets, with comments on the risk and possible avoidance action.

If you would like to contribute to this, email Stories at eusprig dot org with your story. You may find more by searching the web for "Spreadsheet" and these keywords (and their variants such as -ed, -ing, -s and -ly):

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