A third shareholder lawsuit has been filed against Apple, while analysts discuss and Reuters investigates the company's recent revelations of stop option-granting anomalies going back to September 2002.
Apple last week revealed an internal investigation had discovered irregularities related to the issuance of certain stock option grants made between 1997 and 2001.
The investigation revealed anomalies sufficient to delay the company filing the paperwork for the quarter ended July 1, 2006. The company has also confirmed that it may have to restate its results across quarters going back to September 2002.
The news drew an immediate response from lawyers at Keller Rohrback, who have filed a shareholder derivative complaint against Apple and certain named executives.
The lawsuit accuses the defendants of breaching their fiduciary duties and collusion to do the same in order to improperly backdate stock option grants and improperly record and account for grants of these. The suit also accuses those concerned of disseminating false financial statements.Reuters took a look at a series of regulatory filings and confirmed at least one case in which top Apple executives were granted stock options at low prices very shortly before the value of Apple's shares rose markedly.
"In one instance in early 2001, Apple granted a total of 8 million, split-adjusted options to four of its top officers at the time," the report explains.
Apple shares tumbled last week as investors considered the news, but analysts are advising clients not to act too hastily.
Equity Research analyst Jonathan Hoopes wrote: "We are not surprised that Apple will likely restate financials in light of the options pricing issue - this should not come as 'new news' as management came forward back in June."
The anlayst advises that he doesn't believe Apple CEO Steve Jobs will be implicated in the scandal, meaning Apple's leader is unlikely to be forcibly removed from his position.
He's optimistic for the firm despite the tribulation: "Never in the history of the PC has a company been better positioned than Apple is at this time to both gain share and improve profitability." He holds a $90 target price on Apple stock.
Merrill Lynch analyst Richard Farmer tod clients that Apple's future fortunes would not be affected by the options debacle, offering a $72 price target and a buy rating on the stock. He characterised the news as all the same: a "negative development" that "reflects poorly on the integrity of the managers involved."
American Technology Research analyst Shaw Wu told his clients that "even in a worst case scenario in which Apple is found guilty of improper options granting, we do not believe Jobs is liable, the reason being that Apple's compensation committee is run by an independent board that is not comprised of company employees."
Wu chose to maintain his buy rating and $75 price target on the stock.
"We believe potential financial damage [and] penalties from any options irregularities are likely to be limited and cash flow would not be impacted," UBS analyst Benjamin Reitzes said. "According to the company's 2004 proxy statement, in March 2003, Mr. Jobs voluntarily cancelled all of his outstanding options, excluding those granted to him in his capacity of director."