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Hidden spreadsheet rows hit Barclays with toxic Lehman contracts

5th Nov 2008
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On Tuesday 5 November, lawyers for Barclays Capital appeared before the US Bankruptcy Court in New York to try and extricate the company from taking on Lehman Brothers liabilities accidentially included in a PDF copy made of an asset spreadsheet. John Stokdyk reports.

Following Lehman's collapse in September, Barclays Capital agreed to pay $1.35bn for the failed bank's assets once they had been stipped clean of some of the more toxic elements. Unfortunately, a docket submitted by Barclays' representatives Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP to the bankruptcy court in advance of the 22 September sale date included 179 contracts that should have omitted.

In an affadavit uncovered by the Above the website, the junior associate who compiled the list explained what happened.

On the evening of 18 September a colleague asked the clerk to help reformat an Excel asset spreadsheet and convert it into a PDF.

"Some of the rows of the original Excel spreadsheet were spaced too close together or too far apart, making it difficult to read when printed or converted to PDF format. I therefore globally re-sized all the rows in the document to make it easier to read when printed or converted to PDF format." The clerk also removed several columns that were not needed in the final document.

The coverted document was subsequently handed into the court, but the clerk was not aware that the original spreadsheet included hidden rows, nor that there were 179 contracts designated with “N” in a column to indicate that they should not be included in the sale.

"I also was not aware that these hidden rows were exposed when I globally re-sized the rows in the spreadsheet or that, once exposed, they would appear without the original designations," the unfortunate clerk testified.

The law firm says that a junior associate had reformatted an Excel spreadsheet into a PDF document to post on the court's website.

Clearly Gottlieb filed a motion to asking for relief from the final sale order due to "mistake or excusable neglect" toextricate its client from the potentially disastrous commitments.

Above the Law noted that the work took place just after 11:30pm. "Who knows how much sleep anybody at Cleary got between Lehman crashing on the 15th and the 18th when the mistake happened? And, as we all know, they don't teach "Excel" in law school and they really, really should," it commented.

Lehman collapse: The story so far


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By AnonymousUser
05th Nov 2008 12:47

A fantastic example of misuse of Excel
This is a wonderfully real example of how the way Excel is often used can be very dangerous.

I always teach clients to seperate out the data from its presentation. It can then be presented using pifvot tables and the like, where the selection criteria is clearly visible.

If you try to combine the raw data with its presentation, the only way to exclude items is to hide or delete them - you may not want to delete them but hiding them leads to this kind of problem. It also means that totals can be misleading as well.

A very amusing, if sobering, story though.#

Glen John Feechan BA Hon. ACA
[email protected]
Not Just Numbers Ezine
Workshop - Advanced Management Reporting in Microsoft Excel

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