Sunday, February 10, 2008

Don’t Forget About Options Backdating

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Amidst all the subprime hoopla, it would be easy to forget that only a year ago, options backdating was the hot topic. Options backdating might now seem passé, but several considerations suggest that options backdating remains important and that we still have a long way to go before we can be sure we have seen all of the options backdating scandal fallout.

Accumulating Lawsuits: The first important consideration about options backdating in early 2008 is that the options backdating related lawsuits are still coming in. As I previously noted (here), last month shareholders filed an options-backdating related securities class action lawsuit against Teletech Holdings.

In addition, on February 6, 2008, plaintiffs’ lawyers announced (here) that they had initiated a securities class action lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California against Maxim Integrated Products and certain of its directors and officers. The lawsuit relates to Maxim’s January 17, 2008 announcement (here) that, as a result of its Board’s special committee’s investigation of the company’s stock option practices, the company would be restating its financial statements to record non-cash, pre-tax charges of between $550 and $650 million for additional stock-based compensation expense. The company also announced that investors should not rely on the company’s financial statements for the fiscal years 1997 through 2005 and corresponding interim reporting periods through March 25, 2006.

The timing of Maxim’s recent announcement is relevant here. The company had first announced its anticipated restatement nearly a year prior, in January 2007 (here), and the company’s January 2008 announcement indicated that the company’s review was not only not yet complete, but would have to be expanded backwards to include its 1995 and 1996 fiscal years. Maxim is surely not the only company that continues to struggle with the accounting clean-up from options backdating-related issues. There may well be additional options backdating related lawsuits filed in the months ahead.

But in any event, with the addition of the Maxim Integrated Products lawsuit to my running tally of options backdating related lawsuits (which can be found here), the current total number of options backdating related class action lawsuits now stands at 36. These 36 class action lawsuits are in addition to the 166 options backdating related derivative lawsuits that have also been filed.

Accumulating Settlements: The second important consideration about options backdating in early 2008 is that the settlements of the options backdating related cases are accumulating in a material way. Indeed, on February 8, 2008, HCC Insurance Holdings announced (here) that it had settled the options backdating-related securities class action lawsuit that had been filed against the company and certain of its directors and officers, for a payment of $10 million dollars (to be funded entirely by insurance). The company had previously announced on January 9, 2008 (here) that it had settled the options backdating related derivative lawsuit in which the company was involved, in exchange for an agreement to adopt certain governance reforms and the payment of $3 million of the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees.

As reflected in my table of options backdating-related lawsuits dismissals, denials and settlements (which can be accessed here), the HCC settlement represents the seventh of the options backdating-related securities class action lawsuits to settle. The aggregate amount of these seven settlements is $244.55 million. Three other options backdating-related securities class action lawsuits have also been dismissed, meaning that at this point, ten of the 36 options backdating related securities lawsuits have either settled or dismissed, with another 26 yet to be resolved.

As also reflected on my list of options backdating related case dispositions, there have also been a number of options backdating related derivative settlements. The value of some of these settlements has not publicly disclosed, but the value of the disclosed settlements – not counting the $900 million UnitedHealth Group derivative settlement – is over $61 million.
The sum of the value of these two categories of options backdating-related lawsuit settlements is over $300 million – and if the UnitedHealth Group settlement is included, the total value so far is over $1.3 billion. (It should be kept in mind that these figures do not reflect the derivative settlements that were not publicly disclosed). Of course, these figures do not include the costs the companies incurred to defend these cases, as well as to defend themselves and their senior officials against SEC investigations and other regulatory and criminal matters. And, perhaps most significantly here, there are many more of these cases yet to be resolved than have so far been settled or dismissed.

The Securities Litigation Watch blog has a more detailed analysis of the options backdating securities class action settlements here.

I have gone through this exercise to point out that when all is said and done, the options backdating scandal is going to have proven to have had a very significant event. While not all of the settlement and amounts and defense expenses represent covered loss (for example, the UnitedHealth Group would appear to be excluded from coverage under the typical D & O insurance policy), much of these amounts will be paid by D & O insurers.

As is clear from the fact that options backdating related lawsuits continue to emerge, and the fact that the vast majority of the options backdating-related cases are yet to be resolved, D & O insurers are going to continue to incur these losses for some time to come. And while it can certainly be hoped that the insurers’ reserving practices fully anticipate future developments in these cases (and the cases yet to emerge), the possibility that options backdating might be a bigger deal than everyone has been assuming right now cannot be overlooked.

This analysis of the options backdating-related cases provides some significant context for the current rapidly unfolding subprime-related litigation wave. By any measure, the subprime wave represents a bigger threat than the options backdating related cases. There are going to be many more subprime-related securities class action lawsuits (right now, there are 43 subprime-related securities lawsuits vs. the 36 options backdating related securities lawsuits, and the subprime related lawsuits are going to be rolling in for the rest of this year and probably into the next); the subprime cases involve much more significant shareholder losses; the subprime cases will be very expensive to defend; and, due to their complexity, the subprime cases will take a long time to resolve.

Bottom line: the options backdating scandal and the subprime meltdown together represent adverse circumstances for D & O insurers – something you would never be able to discern from the current marketplace conditions.

Special thanks to Adam Savett of the Securities Litigation Watch for the link to the HCC settlement and for suggesting to me the aggregation of the options backdating related class action settlements.

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