The financial statements of at least 59 listed companies contained a qualified audit opinion or 'fundamental uncertainty' last year, according to the stock exchange. The figure represents 8.7 per cent of the 680 companies listed on the Hong Kong stock market as of the end of last year. The exchange scrutinised the annual reports of all listed issuers with financial years ending between June 30 and December 31. Companies whose accounts failed to draw a clean bill of health were mostly second and third-liners. The list may not be comprehensive as it excludes companies whose financial year ends in the first six months. A stock exchange spokesman said the survey had been prompted by recent market concern over the qualification of auditors' reports. Audit reports have been a subject of controversy in recent months as financial difficulties have surfaced at a string of listed companies amid the recession. Accounting practitioners said auditors expressed a qualified opinion when they had limited access to auditing materials or were unable to reach an understanding with the company over arrangements for provisions or receivables. When the viability of the business was in doubt as a result of problems such as cash-flow crises and litigation, auditors would brand the accounts as carrying a fundamental uncertainty. 'Balance sheets with the above auditors' view do not necessarily mean they are questionable or contain irregularities or elements of fraud,' Ernst & Young technical department principal Alden Leung Kwok-ki said. 'The trigger is the economic turmoil, which causes assets to depreciate and banks to tighten lending. 'This gives rise to a wave of provisions or cash flow problems.' Mr Leung would not comment on specific cases.