SEC Charges Office Depot and Company Executives With Improper Disclosures to Analysts
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Washington, D.C., Oct. 21, 2010 — The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced enforcement actions against Office Depot, Inc. and two executives for violating or causing violations of fair disclosure regulations when selectively conveying to analysts and institutional investors that the company would not meet analysts’ earnings estimates. The SEC also charged Office Depot with unrelated accounting violations.
Regulation FD requires that when issuers disclose material nonpublic information, they must make broad public disclosure of that information. The SEC’s orders find that as they neared the end of Office Depot’s second quarter for 2007, CEO Stephen A. Odland and then-CFO Patricia A. McKay discussed how to encourage analysts to revisit their analysis of the company. Office Depot then made a series of one-on-one calls to analysts. The company did not directly state that it would not meet analysts’ expectations, but rather this message was signaled with references to recent public statements of comparable companies about the impact of the slowing economy on their earnings. The analysts also were reminded of Office Depot’s prior cautionary public statements. Analysts promptly lowered their estimates for the period in response to the calls. Office Depot did not regularly initiate these types of calls to all analysts covering the company.
Office Depot agreed to settle the SEC’s charges without admitting or denying the findings and allegations, and will pay a $1 million penalty. Odland and McKay also agreed to settle the Regulation FD charges against them without admitting or denying the findings, and will pay $50,000 each.
“Office Depot executives selectively shared information with analysts and the company’s largest shareholders in order to manage earnings expectations,” said Robert Khuzami, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. “This gave an unfair advantage to favored investors at the expense of other investors and, as today’s action shows, is illegal.”
“Talking Wall Street down from its earnings projections whether done expressly or through signals is prohibited,” said Eric I. Bustillo, Director of the SEC’s Miami Regional Office. “Regulation FD is designed to level the playing field so that all investors receive the information at the same time.”
The SEC’s administrative orders find that Odland, in an attempt to get analysts to lower their estimates, proposed to McKay that the company talk to the analysts and refer them to recent public announcements by two comparable companies about their financial results being impacted by the slowing economy. Odland further suggested that Office Depot point out on its calls what the company had said in prior public conference calls in April and May 2007. McKay then assisted Office Depot’s investor relations personnel in preparing talking points for the calls.
According to the SEC’s orders, Odland and McKay were not present during the calls but were aware of the analysts’ declining estimates while the company made the calls. They encouraged the calls to be completed. Office Depot continued to make the calls despite McKay being notified of some analysts’ concerns about the lack of public disclosure among other things. Six days after the calls began, Office Depot filed a Form 8-K announcing that its sales and earnings would be negatively impacted due to a continued soft economy. Before that Form 8-K was filed, Office Depot’s share price had significantly dropped on increased trading volume.
In addition to their $50,000 payments, Odland and McKay consented to the entry of administrative orders requiring them to cease and desist from causing any violations and any future violations of Regulation FD and Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act.
Unrelated to these Regulation FD violations, the SEC also charged Office Depot with overstating its net earnings in its financial statements for the third quarter of 2006 through the second quarter of 2007 as a result of accounting violations. Office Depot prematurely recognized approximately $30 million in funds received from vendors in exchange for the company’s merchandising and marketing efforts instead of recognizing the funds over the relevant reporting periods in a manner consistent with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. In November 2007, the company restated those financials and announced a material weakness in its internal controls over financial reporting that resulted from the failure of its personnel responsible for negotiating agreements with vendors to communicate all of the relevant information to financial accounting personnel. The SEC did not charge Odland or McKay with any issues in connection with the restatement.
Office Depot has agreed to settle the SEC’s charges by consenting to the entry of an administrative order requiring it to cease and desist from committing or causing any violations and any future violations of Sections 13(a), 13(b)(2)(A), and 13(b)(2)(B) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rules 12b-20, 13a-1, and 13a-13 thereunder, and Regulation FD. Office Depot also consented to the entry of a judgment in a separate civil action that requires it to pay the $1 million penalty.
The SEC’s case was handled by Steven J. Meiner, Kathleen E. Strandell, Chad Alan Earnst, Eric R. Busto, Amie Berlin, Bob Levenson, Teresa Verges, and Yolanda Gonzalez of the Miami Regional Office.
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For more information about this enforcement action, contact:
Glenn S. Gordon
Associate Regional Director (Enforcement), SEC’s Miami Regional Office
Chad Alan Earnst
Assistant Regional Director (Enforcement), SEC’s Miami Regional Office