Feds Call on Juniper
The company announced this morning it's received a request for information from the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, regarding stock-options grants. Juniper said it intends to cooperate with the request.
Juniper stock had fallen 6 percent on Friday on analysts' reports that noted some suspicious options activity. (See Options Scare Hits SafeNet, Juniper.) Its shares were up $0.44 (2.92%) at $15.50 in afternoon trading today.
The question at hand is whether certain directors and executives have back-dated options to maximize profits. A stock option that happens to be granted when shares are near a low point would provide a greater return than a randomly dated option.
This became a hot topic in March with a Wall Street Journal article that called out several companies for having eyebrow-raising options practices. Not all the companies are technology-related -- UnitedHealth Group (Nasdaq: UNH) is among the cases getting the most attention. Chipmaker Vitesse Semiconductor Corp. (Nasdaq: VTSS) was among those named, however, and that led to an internal investigation and the firings of three executives, including the CEO. (See Vitesse Execs Get the Axe.)
The feds stepped in late last week, launching subpoenas to companies including SafeNet Inc. (Nasdaq: SFNT) and Vitesse. (See SafeNet Gets Subpoenaed and Vitesse Gets Subpoenaed.)
Analysts naturally began searching through options dates for potential red flags, and that's where Juniper comes in. The company reportedly is among the 17 firms noted by the Center for Financial Research and Analysis as having suspicious options dating.
Analyst Ehud Gelblum of JP.MorganChase took a look at Juniper and about a dozen other companies in a report late last week. While pointing out that he's neither stating nor implying any conclusions, he noted that six of 15 Juniper options were granted when the stock was at its low point for a given month.
He adds, though: "In further discussions with Juniper, we learned that Juniper granted options at 78 additional instances from 1999 through 2003 and likely at several additional times from 2003 through 2006 as well, potentially skewing the significance of any conclusion that might be inferred."
— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading