SEC is Probing IBM Earnings


The Securities and Exchange Commission’s investigation into IBM’s first-quarter 2005 accounting practices is now official, IBM confirmed.


The systems vendor said that it has received notice of a formal, nonpublic
investigation by the SEC concerning IBM’s disclosures relating to the Q1
earnings and expensing of stock options compensation.


IBM said it will continue to cooperate with the SEC, which first made an
informal inquiry in June. Big Blue also noted that the SEC has assured IBM
that the probe is not an indication that the company has broken any laws
regarding fiscal reporting.


An IBM spokesman refused to provide more specifics about what the
SEC is looking for in its investigation.


With the informal inquiry, the SEC can ask IBM to provide any information
related to financials. But by making the probe formal, the SEC may subpoena
documents from IBM.


The SEC’s interest was sparked after IBM CFO Mark Loughridge said on an
April 5 conference call the company would begin accounting for the expense
of stock options and other stock-based compensation before the deadline to
do so under new SEC staff accounting requirements.


“We have implemented targeted actions to address equity compensation,”
Loughridge said. “For example, we have reduced the number of equity grants,
and implemented premium-priced options for our executive population.

“This
year we are facing significant increases in cost and expense driven by
accounting for pensions.”


Loughridge then asked analysts to lower their earnings-per-share estimates
to 90 cents from $1.04, a drop of 14 cents.


However, when IBM put out its first-quarter financials April 14, it reported
earnings of 84 cents a share, and the new options cost contributed only 10
cents of expense.


IBM reported
a profit during its first quarter of 2005 but missed its earnings guidance
by five points, blaming difficulty closing key deals and slow growth in
overseas markets.


Analysts later complained that IBM had played up the impact of the options
expensing in order to lower estimates ahead of a disappointing quarter.


The SEC informed IBM of its informal inquiry two months later.

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