Apple's Steve Jobs Apologizes for Stock Options Inproprieties

Now that an internal investigation over Apple Computer Inc.'s (AAPL) stock-option practices has helped abate investor worries over Steve Jobs' role as CEO, a key lingering concern will be the impact of pending earnings restatements.

Apple said Wednesday its three-month investigation did not uncover any misconduct of any current employees but did raise "serious concerns" over the accounting actions of two unnamed former officers.

The iPod and Macintosh maker also said its former chief financial officer, Fred Anderson, had resigned from the company's board of directors.

Jobs — his position intact — apologized.

The probe found that Jobs knew that some option grants had been given favorable dates in "a few instances," but he did not benefit from them and was not aware of the accounting implications, the company said.

"I apologize to Apple's shareholders and employees for these problems, which happened on my watch," Jobs said in a statement. "We will now work to resolve the remaining issues as quickly as possible and to put the proper remedial measures in place to ensure that this never happens again."

Apple said it will likely have to restate some earnings due to revised tax and stock option-related charges. Auditors are still reviewing the situation, and Apple said it has not yet determined the extent of the financial impact.

The looming restatements could dramatically reduce some of the windfall generated during the company's recent run of record profit, analysts said.

Apple has reported profit totaling $3.1 billion during the past four years. If the restatements are severe, it could dent Apple's stock, said IDC analyst Richard Shim.

"The restatements have the potential to bite them again depending on how large they end up being," Shim said. "That said, the company is certainly firing on all cylinders so investors may be willing to forgive them, but it's something that will linger in the backs of their minds."

Shares of Apple shed 58 cents to $74.80 in aftermarket trading after closing at $75.38, up $1.30, or 1.8 percent, on the Nasdaq Stock Market on Wednesday.

The stock has traded between $47.87 and $86.40 over the past year.

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster said he and other investors are breathing a sigh of relief that Jobs kept his job throughout the scandal.

"The risk was that if something bizarre happened and Steve Jobs got fired over it," Munster said from his office in Minneapolis. "That could have significantly impacted the company in a negative way. Steve Jobs is Apple. Ultimately, the scope of the backdating was bigger than we thought, but the impact turned out to be less severe."

Apple is one of the most prominent among more than 100 companies caught in the nationwide stock options mishandling scandal. Cupertino-based Apple initiated its own stock-options investigation in June after problems at other companies began to unravel.

In many instances, the problem has centered on the "backdating" of stock options — a practice in which insiders could make the rewards more lucrative by retroactively pinning the option's exercise price to a low point in the stock's value.

Apple said its probe found irregularities in the recording of stock option grants made on 15 dates between 1997 and 2002, with the last one involving a January 2002 grant, the company said. The grants had dates that preceded the approval of those grants.

Apple spokesman Steve Dowling said the 15 grants represented 6 percent of the total issued during that period. He said he did not have further details regarding the specific grants or whether they were awarded to officers or employees.

The company did not identify the two former officers whose accounting, recording and reporting of option grants raised "serious concerns" during the probe.

Apple said Anderson, who served as the company's chief financial officer from 1996 until 2004, resigned from the board, citing he did so in "Apple's best interest."

Dowling said the company will provide more details about the probe to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The company's special committee conducting the investigation examined more than 650,000 e-mails and documents, and interviewed more than 40 current and former employees, directors and advisers.