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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Weekend Edition: Could Apple Be Delisted?

The Wall Street Journal listed 54 companies that are currently at risk for being delisted from the Nasdaq Stock Market due to late SEC filings caused by options backdating issues. Apple is on that list. Three companies have already been kicked out and it is anyone's guess how many more may be.

The problem is not just one for the companies. Nasdaq charges large listing fees, so if a large number of companies get pushed to the pink sheets or bulletin board, the exchange could face falling revenue. It is, potentially, a conflict of interest for Nasdaq. The exchange can allow companies a grace period while they appeal their delisting notices, but the appeal process cannot go on forever or the Nasdaq will lose its moral authority to act in the best interests of shareholders.

Apple's problems are particularly vexing. It is on of the most prominent companies on Nasdaq. But, almost every week there are new revelations in the Apple options probe. At first the company indicated that the problems were fairly minor. Then it released information saying the Steve Jobs may have had some grants, that were later cancelled, that might be involved in the investigation. Later, it was announced that Jobs was aware of the grants and the company's former CFO stepped off the board.

With the US Attorney's office and the SEC now involved in looking at backdating, the ability to file financial data is potentially being taken out of the hands of companies and their boards. A probe of any given company could take months, stretching the tardiness of SEC filing past any normal Nasdaq appeal date. And, that is where Apple and other companies have very real risk.

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