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.
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.
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.