A confession: I don't know what angle to take on this story. Fred Anderson, the most senior Apple executive under investigation for the company's sleazy executive option program, is said to have settled with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The punishment is mild: the former Apple chief financial officer — now at Elevation Partners, Roger McNamee's buyout firm — will have to disgorge $3.5m of personal gains, and pay a $150,000 fine, according to Bloomberg. But what does it mean?
At least one analyst says this removes a nagging worry about the consumer electronics company. If Anderson, who retired from Apple in 2004, is the government investigators' high-value target, the company's current management team is safe. But Apple's stock is directionless this morning. Which is a sign that investors are as confused as we are. The investigation of Apple's executive options, backdated to build in profits for executives such as Anderson and Steve Jobs, the company's CEO, is not over yet.
One would have thought it likely Anderson agreed to cooperate with any eventual prosecution by the securities regulator, in exchange for such lenient treatment. And the settlement leaves the company's former general counsel, Nancy Heinen, would have only one person left to implicate: Steve Jobs, Apple's imperial founder. But that speculation is based only on reading between the lines of the Bloomberg story, and an understanding of prosecutors' tactics garnered from a source no more reliable than Law & Order, the TV crime series. Anyone have better insight?