SEC review of Apple disclosure now more complex?

The federal inquiry into whether Apple made misleading statements over CEO Steve Jobs' health is ongoing, according to a Bloomberg report.

Erica Ogg Former Staff writer, CNET News
Erica Ogg is a CNET News reporter who covers Apple, HP, Dell, and other PC makers, as well as the consumer electronics industry. She's also one of the hosts of CNET News' Daily Podcast. In her non-work life, she's a history geek, a loyal Dodgers fan, and a mac-and-cheese connoisseur.
Erica Ogg
2 min read

Steve Jobs health
The SEC wants to know what Apple knew and when about Steve Jobs' health. James Martin/CNET

The SEC continues to be very interested in how the health of Apple CEO Steve Jobs went from "hormonal imbalance" to a six-month medical leave in a matter of nine days back in January.

The SEC was said to be reviewing the way Apple handled the disclosures surrounding the health of Jobs in late January, but a new Bloomberg report Wednesday says the federal inquiry is ongoing, citing "people familiar with the matter."

The issue is whether the Apple board knew the seriousness of Jobs' health problems yet made misleading statements to stockholders and the public. On January 5, to explain his absence from MacWorld, Jobs said he was suffering from a "hormone imbalance." Nine days later, Jobs wrote a public letter to say he was taking a medical leave of absence for six months because he had learned in the past week his health issues were "more complex than (he) originally thought."

We know now that Jobs had a liver transplant in April, and has since returned to work on a part-time basis. His doctors have said his health prognosis is good. But during that time, did any board members--two of whom were getting regular updates on Jobs' health status from his doctors--make inaccurate or misleading statements to investors?

There's been disagreement among experts in corporate governance on the proper way to handle the private health issues of the public faces of major companies. Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett said in June that as the head of his company, his health is a "material fact" that investors need to know to make informed decisions.

Apple has disagreed, and hasn't even acknowledged that Jobs' liver transplant took place. The hospital in Tennessee where he had the operation was the one who officially confirmed it happened. But nobody is saying exactly why he needed it. In fact, Apple has refused almost all opportunities to discuss Jobs' condition ever since his gaunt appearance at the Worldwide Developers Conference in June 2008 aroused speculation that the pancreatic cancer he battled between 2003 and 2004 had returned.

There is no rule or regulation that says public companies must disclose the health problems of its chief executives. But there is the expectation that if a company does, it should be truthful. The SEC has not accused Apple of lying or misleading the public, but it is trying to determine just how much the company or its board members knew, and when.