It was forced to restate earnings by recognizing a stock-based expense increase of 3 million between 19, after allegedly manipulating its stock options grants for the benefit of its senior executives.
It allegedly failed to inform investors, or account for the options expense(s) properly.
Since the advent of stock option backdating, corporate policies have moved first toward a posture of encouraging backdating as a standard business practice, but then toward a posture of avoidance as public scandals emerged and investigations into fraudulent or dishonest business practices increased despite a commonly held belief that backdating was an acceptable and legal practice.
In essence, the revision enabled companies to increase executive compensation without informing their shareholders if the compensation was in the form of stock options contracts that would only become valuable if the underlying stock price were to increase at a later time.
In 1994, a new tax code (162 M) provision declared all executive income levels over one million dollars to be “unreasonable” in order to increase taxes on all applicable salaries by removing them from their previous tax-deductible status.
The SEC’s opinions regarding backdating and fraud were primarily due to the various tax rules that apply when issuing “in the money” stock options versus the much different – and more financially beneficial – tax rules that apply when issuing “at the money” or "out of the money" stock options.
Additionally, companies can use backdating to produce greater executive incomes without having to report higher expenses to their shareholders, which can lower company earnings and/or cause the company to fall short of earnings predictions and public expectations.
The other major way that backdating can be misleading to investors relates to the method by which the company accounts for the options.
Until very recently, a company that granted stock options to executives at fair market value did not have to recognize the cost of the options as a compensation expense.Cases of backdating employee stock options have drawn public and media attention.According to a study by Erik Lie, a finance professor at the University of Iowa, more than 2,000 companies used options backdating in some form to reward their senior executives between 19.Although many companies have been identified as having problems with backdating, the severity of the problem, and the consequences, fall along a broad spectrum.At one extreme, where it is clear that top management was guilty of conscious wrongdoing in backdating, attempted to conceal the backdating by falsifying documents, and where the backdating resulted in a substantial overstatement of the company's profitability, SEC enforcement actions and even criminal charges have resulted.The problem with this practice, according to the SEC, was that stock option backdating, while difficult to prove, could be considered a criminal act.