Monday, August 21, 2006

Companies Sound “All Clear” on Options Backdating

Earlier in the summer, it was a seemingly daily occurrence for one or more public companies to announce that they were launching internal probes of their options practices. (These announcements were accompanied, and no doubt encouraged, by numerous simultaneous announcements of SEC probes, U.S. Attorney’s subpoenas, and the like.) Now as the summer has, alas, started to wane, the wave of new investigation announcements seems to have been replaced by a growing number of companies’ announcements that they have completed their internal investigations and found no evidence of options fraud or timing manipulations.

Just in the last week, Intuit, Xilink, Equinix and Redback have each announced that they have completed internal investigations without finding intentional or fraudulent misconduct. The companies also announced that they have so advised governmental authorities. Several of these companies did announce that they were taking accounting charges, without restating, because their probes had found that some options were dated earlier than the actual grant date, due to administrative or processing delays.

In addition, on August 21, 2006, the Corporate Library announced (here) the results of a study of the stock options granted over the past decade by a dozen financial institutions. The study looked at stock option awards to executives at the nation's five largest banks, and at several other financial companies that made use of options. The study found no evidence of backdating of options issued to the executives at the institutions whose options were analyzed.

The AAO Weblog has an interesting August 21, 2006 post about Intuit’s announcement, including a discussion of the factors that will affect how long these kinds of internal investigations are likely to take to complete.

Milberg Weiss Indictment Fall Out Continues: The WSJ Law Blog has an August 21, 2006 post reporting that four more partners have left the Milberg Weiss firm. At this rate, it may wind to be a moot point whether or not the prosecutors actually prove their allegations against the firm. In the meantime, Saxena and White, formed of attorneys from Milberg’s Boca Raton office (including Chris Jones, the author of the PSLRA Nugget blog), has surfaced with an announcement of the filing of a securities class action complaint, as discussed here in the Lies, Damned Lies blog.

As The D & O Diary has previously noted (here and here), it is hard to say what the final consequential effect of the Milberg Weiss indictment will be, but the firm’s slow dissolution and the setting up of competitor (successor) firms will each have their own impact, as will the perhaps opportunistic attraction to the securities litigation arena of plaintiffs’ firms best known for their prominence in asbestos and tobacco litigation.

Freddie Mac Settles ERISA Lawsuit: Freddie Mac announced (here) on August 21, 2006 that it had agreed to pay $4.65 million to settle a class-action lawsuit that had been brought under ERISA following the company's restatement of financial results for the years 2000 through 2002. The company had been accused of overstating its earnings, inflating the value of its shares. Some of the allegely inflated stock was held in employee retirement plans. The company announced that the settlement was fully covered by insurance.

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