Apple, CA wrestle with stock option irregularities

Internal probes at both companies reveal possible problems in past employee stock options policies.

Ina Fried
Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
2 min read
Apple Computer said Thursday that as part of an internal probe, it has "discovered irregularities" related to the issuance of certain stock option grants made between 1997 and 2001, including one grant to CEO Steve Jobs.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based company noted that the grant to Jobs was later cancelled and that he received no financial gain as part of the options grant in question.

"Apple is a quality company, and we are proactively and transparently disclosing what we have discovered to the SEC," Jobs said in a statement. "We are focused on resolving these issues as quickly as possible."

The company said that a special committee of its outside directors has hired independent counsel to perform an investigation and that the company has informed the Securities and Exchange Commission. Apple said its executives will refrain from commenting further on this matter until the independent investigation is concluded.

Separately, CA (formerly Computer Associates International) said on Thursday that it may need to restate earnings from past years, in part because of the way it handled stock option grants to employees. The software maker said in a statement that prior to fiscal year 2002, it "did not communicate stock option grants to individual employees in a timely manner." It said they the delays, amounting to up to two years, were between when grants were approved and when they were notified.

CA said that although it has not completed its review, it expects the noncash expense it will need to record for fiscal 2005 and fiscal 2006 to be less than $20 million per year. The charges for fiscal 2002 through fiscal 2004 could be in the range of $40 million to $100 million per year, on a pretax basis.

Islandia, NY-based CA also said that as it has continued to examine its software licensing practices, it estimates that it has "understated subscription revenue" in the years before fiscal 2006 by about $40 million. Any adjustments it makes to past years will result in reductions in subscription revenue for future quarters through approximately 2011. Any new adjustments would be in addition to a previous restatement of earnings the company made in October 2005.

A number of technology companies have announced probes into their stock option practices, amid a growing scandal over the practice of backdating options--that is, granting options on a date when the stock price was lower, thereby locking in a gain for employees. Among the companies exploring their practices is CNET Networks, publisher of CNET News.com. CNET said earlier this week that it has received a grand jury subpoena from the U.S. Attorney's Office and had previously said it is the subject of an informal inquiry from the SEC.