The shock of in your face

We all knew General Motors is deathly ill.

And anyone who understands the responsibility that public auditors have to a public company's investors had to figure that Deloitte Touche would issue a going-concern opinion letter for GM's 10-K annual report.

The letter shouldn't have surprised us. Logically, if the auditor's opinion had not had a going-concern warning it would have raised eyebrows on Wall Street and probably prompted outraged calls for Congressional hearings in Washington.

Investors, Wall Street analysts and financial reporters are trained to look at the auditor's opinion for an assessment of a company's health. Generally, the more paragraphs there are in the auditor's letter, the worse off a company is. Usually by the time you get to the auditor's letter there are enough other symptoms so you're not surprised by the letter.

But that doesn't mitigate the shock of seeing it.

It's like visiting an old friend in the hospital. You know he was in horrible crash and hasn't regained consciousness. But the gravity of your friend's condition doesn't sink in until you walk into the Intensive Care Unit. You may not even recognize him, laying there battered and bruised with tubes running in and out of every orifice.

Despite the shock, all you can do is hope and pray the doctors know what they're doing -- and that the patient has a strong will to live.

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