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SEC Investigates IBM Accounting Practices

Jun 3, 2003 | www.ft.com International Business Machines' accounting has become the subject of a formal investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission the US computing giant said on Monday.

Big Blue sought to limit the extent of the review, saying that it "believes" the probe was prompted by a separate SEC investigation into one of its customers.

However, while the initial impetus behind the investigation may have been limited, an IBM spokesman confirmed that the SEC had broadened it into a company-wide review of certain classes of equipment sales.

The news will stir memories of the concerns that have circulated on Wall Street in the past about the quality of IBM's reported numbers. The group was criticised for a number of its accounting methods under former chief executive Lou Gerstner, though it is never thought to have come under official scrutiny. A spokesman said on Monday that there were no other SEC inquiries outstanding.

IBM's shares dipped in late trading on Monday, to $87.33 from a high of just over $89 earlier in the day, and below its close in New York on Friday at $88.04.

In a statement, IBM said on Monday the SEC investigation was focussed on its revenue recognition practices in 2000 and 2001, and dealt with "certain types of customer transactions".

The company added: "IBM believes that the investigation arises from a separate investigation by the SEC of a customer of IBM's Retail Store Solutions unit. This unit markets and sells point-of-sale products."

While the SEC review appeared to be prompted by IBM's dealing with this single customer, it had now expanded to become a company-wide investigation of similar transactions that the computer maker has undertaken with other customers as well, the spokesman said. He declined to provide further details, except to say that the disputed transactions did not involve lease arrangements.

The SEC has embarked on a number of reviews of accounting in the retail industry, prompted partly by the accounting scandal at the US unit of Ahold, the Dutch retailer, though until now none of these had been thought to focus on equipment purchases.

IBM said that it was "cooperating fully" with the SEC. Under a formal investigation, the SEC has powers of subpoena, unlike the more informal reviews that it frequently carries out.

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