Since the advent of stock option backdating, corporate policies have moved first toward a posture of encouraging backdating as a standard business practice, but then toward a posture of avoidance as public scandals emerged and investigations into fraudulent or dishonest business practices increased despite a commonly held belief that backdating was an acceptable and legal practice.In the modern business world, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act has all but eliminated fraudulent options backdating by requiring companies to report all options issuances within 2 days of the date of issue.If a company grants options on June 1 (when the stock price is 0), but backdates the options to May 15 (when the price was ) in order to make the option grants more favorable to the grantees, the fact remains that the grants were actually made on June 1, and if the exercise price of the granted options is , not 0, it is below fair market value.Thus, backdating can be misleading to shareholders in the sense that it results in option grants that are more favorable than the shareholders approved in adopting the stock option plan.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.
One of the larger backdating scandals occurred at Brocade Communications, a data storage company.
It was forced to restate earnings by recognizing a stock-based expense increase of 3 million between 19, after allegedly manipulating its stock options grants for the benefit of its senior executives.
It allegedly failed to inform investors, or account for the options expense(s) properly.
The other major way that backdating can be misleading to investors relates to the method by which the company accounts for the options.
Until very recently, a company that granted stock options to executives at fair market value did not have to recognize the cost of the options as a compensation expense.
While this conclusion is logical in cases of options backdating in which executives knowingly participated in the criminal actions, options backdating can be a result of normal accounting or corporate policies that are not criminal in nature, and is a legal practice as long as the backdated contract is appropriately reported for tax purposes.