Apple Computer Inc. maneuvered Friday to keep its shares listed on the Nasdaq Stock Market after reiterating that its mishandling of past employee stock options will cause it to miss a regulatory deadline for filing its latest quarterly results.
The Cupertino, Calif.-based maker of iPods and Macintosh computers said it will ask for an administrative hearing in response to a Nasdaq letter formally warning of a possible delisting because of the company’s delay in making its quarterly report to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The report covers the three months ending July 1, a period in which the company has previously said it earned $472 million.
By requesting a Nasdaq hearing, Apple ensured its shares will remain listed until a two-person panel reviews the matter and then issues a ruling. That process generally takes two to three months to complete.
Apple conceivably could file its tardy report with the SEC before the Nasdaq hearing, although the company hasn’t set a timetable for doing so. “The company is focused on resolving these issues as quickly as possible,” Apple said in a Friday statement that echoed earlier remarks.
Like a long list of other companies, Apple is falling behind on its required SEC filings because its management needs more time to determine if past stock option grants had distorted its financial results. The company last week disclosed it is reviewing whether to restate earnings dating back to September 2002.
The accounting trouble caused by the manipulation of stock options already prompted Nasdaq officials to delist another Silicon Valley company, Mercury Interactive Corp., earlier this year. Other companies also are facing possible delistings for the similar reasons, but Apple is the best known among the troubled lot so far.
The looming restatements threaten to wipe out some of the profits generated during the most prosperous stretch in Apple’s 30-year history as millions of consumers snapped up the company’s ubiquitous iPod. Apple has reported profits totaling $3.1 billion during the past four years.
The uncertainties raised by Apple’s stock-option headaches have weighed on the company’s stock price, which has sunk by 9 percent since management announced last week that an internal inquiry had uncovered new problems. Apple’s shares declined 42 cents to close at $63.65 Friday on the Nasdaq, then dipped another 9 cents in extended trading.
Apple so far hasn’t explained the nature or the extent of its stock option difficulties, saying only it has uncovered some “irregularities” in the distribution of the popular employee awards as far back as 1997 — the same time that co-founder Steve Jobs began his second stint running the company.
More than 80 other companies nationwide are entangled in some sort of stock-option trouble. In most of those instances, the other companies have traced their problems to “backdating” issues.
Under this practice, insiders try to make the rewards more lucrative by retroactively pinning the option’s exercise price to a low point in the stock’s value. Usually, an option’s exercise price coincides with the market value at the time of a grant, to give the recipient an incentive to drive the price higher.
If companies backdate options without accounting for the move, it can cause profits to be overstated and taxes to be underpaid. It also exposes companies to possible fraud charges.
Some people suspect Apple’s stock option problems revolve around another potentially nettlesome practice known as “springloading” — a tactic that refers to grants made just before a company announces good news that’s expected to lift the stock price.
Apple has acknowledged its stock option inquiry involves some awards made to Jobs, although the grants were canceled before its chief executive realized any gains.
Some investors nevertheless worry the brewing scandal might distract or, in a worst case scenario, force out Jobs, who is widely viewed as the key to Apple’s continuing success. Industry analysts so far seem to believe Jobs will remain on the job and focused on building upon Apple’s recent momentum.