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The problem with this practice, according to the SEC, was that stock option backdating, while difficult to prove, could be considered a criminal act.One of the larger backdating scandals occurred at Brocade Communications, a data storage company.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.Cases of backdating employee stock options have drawn public and media attention.
Academic researchers had long been aware of the pattern, exhibited by some companies, of share prices rising dramatically in the days following grants of stock options to senior management.
This is not always the case, according to a ruling by federal judge William Alsup of the U. District Court for the Northern District of California.
According to Alsup’s reasoning and subsequent ruling, it is improper to infer fraudulent activity based solely on the occurrence of options backdating – further facts must be present and proven before the act can be considered to be fraudulent.
However, if the company granted options with an exercise price below fair market value, there would be a compensation expense that had to be recognized under applicable accounting rules.
If a company backdated its stock options, but failed to recognize a compensation expense, then the company's accounting may not be correct, and its quarterly and annual financial reports to investors may be misleading.