The wobbly world of subprime auto finance got another unexpected jolt when First Merchants Acceptance Corp. became the second lender this year to restate earnings and fire top executives due to phony accounting.

On Wednesday night the Deerfield, Ill.-based lender announced it had discovered "irregularities involving unauthorized entries" in the company's financial records. The company also disclosed that its president and other top executives had been fired, and said its 1996 earnings statement would have to be revised. It expects to report a first-quarter loss.

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