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The impact of the options backdating scandal on shareholders

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Looking backward, I'll ruminate a little about how we got here, and finally, at the risk of appearing to be or worse, actually being the secular equivalent of a sanctimonious twit, offer some thoughts looking forward on lessons we might take away from all of this. I have reached the point in life where I view the world through ridiculously expensive progressive lenses, but I guarantee you these lenses are not rose-colored. To recap much of what you may already have read or heard, the Division of Enforcement is investigating over 100 matters relating to potential abuses of employee stock options.

I should begin of course where I always do — with a disclaimer. The investigations are being conducted by SEC offices throughout the country and are being centrally coordinated and tracked here in Washington.

Subsequently, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) took an interest, followed by the securities plaintiffs’ bar and many corporations. The practice of options backdating, apparently widespread from 1996 through 2002, is widely believed to have been short-circuited by the enactment of Sarbanes-Oxley in 2002.

Although backdating had not yet been recognized as a problem, the provisions of Sarbanes-Oxley requiring that insiders report the acquisition of securities, including options, within two days of receipt greatly hindered the ability of corporations to backdate options.

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 vs.

the much different – and more financially beneficial – tax rules that apply when issuing “at the money” or "out of the money" stock options.

Options backdating is the practice of altering the date a stock option was granted, to a usually earlier (but sometimes later) date at which the underlying stock price was lower.

Professor Lie concluded that the robust profitability of so many options was statistically impossible absent some artificial influence such as backdating.

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.

Thank you so much for spending time today on this important topic.

I thought I'd talk a little about where we are from an Enforcement perspective.