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After being dragged down for months by accounting probe, Autodesk reassigns CFO and sees its stock surge

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Autodesk Inc. shares soared by the most in more than a year after the company reassigned its chief financial officer, a move aimed at resolving an internal accounting investigation that delayed filings for weeks.

Deborah Clifford, who has been CFO since March 2021, will become chief strategy officer, effective immediately, the company said late Friday in a statement. Elizabeth Rafael, an Autodesk board member, was appointed interim CFO and remains on the board. The stock gained by as much as 10.2% to $222.21 in New York on Monday, the biggest intraday gain since Nov. 10, 2022. 

Clifford’s reassignment puts to rest uncertainty that has weighed on Autodesk’s stock for months. In early April, the engineering software maker delayed its annual financial disclosure and said it was opening a review of its accounting processes around free cash flow and operating margins. Autodesk reaffirmed on Friday that the probe wouldn’t result in any adjustments to its financial statements. 

The company had said previously that it didn’t expect any previously issued financial data to be affected by the probe. Still, the unusual delays in filing earnings reports stirred investor anxiety, and the stock had dropped 22% to $201.60 through Friday’s close since the investigation was announced.

The disruption of the filings stemmed from the way the company accounted for billings from multiyear software contracts, the company said in a statement. 

The decision to replace Clifford as CFO was made by the board of directors’ audit committee, which led the investigation, executives told employees during a call Friday afternoon, according to a person familiar with the discussion who asked not to be identified. Autodesk management appointed Clifford to her new post following the decision.

Company representatives couldn’t be reached for further comment. 

Wall Street sentiment had “spiraled negative” due to uncertainty, Ken Wong, an analyst at Oppenheimer & Co., wrote in late April. He and other analysts pointed to a recent change in Autodesk’s transaction model, in which the company is sending prices directly to customers rather than using third parties, as a potential source of the accounting issues.

Autodesk also released preliminary earnings for the fiscal first quarter. The company reported revenue of about $1.42 billion and adjusted profit of $1.87 per share in the period ended April 30. Both topped analysts’ average estimates, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The earnings report would have typically come last week, but was delayed by the investigation, according to a person familiar with the issue. 

“Autodesk is working diligently to file its annual report on Form 10-K as soon as possible and to hold an earnings call to discuss first quarter fiscal 2025 results,” the company said.

BMO Capital Markets noted that “some important questions remain.” 

“The investigation found that in FY23, after Autodesk shifted to an annual billings model, the company continued to pursue multi-year upfront contracts with some enterprise customers at a pace significantly higher than historical trend in order to improve FCF results that year,” BMO said in a research note. 

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