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Dell Sets Aside $100 Million for SEC Settlement

June 14, 2010

Computer maker Dell has recorded a $100 million liability on its books in order to establish a reserve for the “potential settlement” of a long-running investigation by the SEC of the company’s accounting practices.

The Round Rock, Texas-based PC manufacturer made the announcement last Thursday, adding that that the settlement would involve a civil injunctive action against the company “for alleged violations of certain federal securities laws, including the antifraud provisions of federal securities laws, relating to certain accounting and financial reporting matters. The settlement would also include negligence-based fraud charges, as well as other non-fraud based charges, relating to the company’s disclosures and alleged omissions prior to Fiscal 2008 regarding certain aspects of its commercial relationship with Intel Corp. “

The company also reported that its chairman and CEO, Michael Dell, has also recently begun talking with the SEC staff about a settlement relating to him personally that would “resolve allegations relating to the company’s disclosures and alleged omissions prior to Fiscal 2008 regarding certain aspects of the company’s commercial relationship with Intel Corp. Any such settlement by Mr. Dell would involve alleged violations of negligence-based fraud provisions of the federal securities laws, as well as other non-fraud based provisions, and would not include any bar against Mr. Dell’s service as an officer and director of a public company. Any settlement would be made without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations.”

Dell tried to provide some reassuring news to investors who may have been unnerved by the $100 million charge against the company’s quarterly financials. “We are hopeful that these settlement discussions will achieve a comprehensive resolution in the near future. The independent directors of the Board have affirmed that Michael Dell will continue to lead the company as its Chairman and CEO, and he continues to have our complete confidence and support,” said Sam Nunn, presiding director of the Dell board (and former U.S. senator), in a statement.

The SEC investigation of Dell began five years ago, and in response, Dell undertook its own “independent” investigation, which it completed in 2007. That investigation led to a restatement of some of the company’s earlier financial reports in addition to a number of remedial measures.

However, those measures apparently were not enough to satisfy the SEC. It will be interesting to see what Dell and the SEC publicly announce about the results of the investigations, and the role played by Intel, a key partner of Dell. Intel has long been accused by its rival, Advanced Micro Devices, of providing rebates and discounts to Dell, prompting New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to file an antitrust lawsuit against Intel last November. The SEC settlement could shed further light on the dealings between Intel and Dell. The two companies have been involved in co-marketing deals that AMD has complained violate trade laws.

The Cuomo lawsuit revealed e-mail messages, according to The New York Times, in which Intel's then-CEO Paul Otellini wrote that Intel had paid Dell over $1 billion one year and said the company was "the best friend money can buy."

Seems the SEC is going to subtract about $100 million of that amount from Dell's coffers. But in the end the settlement should help Dell, whose share price has plunged by about two-thirds since word of the SEC investigation emerged five years ago, much to the delight of rival HP.

Despite the legal problems, Dell has some advanced computer models coming out on the market pretty soon. The company showed off several mininotebooks, laptops and desktop models at a back-to-school preview event a few weeks ago at the Scholastic Building in New York. They revealed that the company is going to be emphasizing style and looks come this fall.

Comments (1)
It's about time "the inexperienced young college kid in the dorm room" myth comes to an end.

While it's a good "Horatio Alger" story, the fact is that while he was smart, and to take nothing away from his thinking up and starting a very large company, he always had financial advice as his mother was in the financial sector, and his father a doctor. Money was never a problem.

Unfortunately, was it this background that led to typical CEO behavior to get a false edge in violation of personal integrity? Or just a flaw in Michael Dell's character? Or is it "deceptive character?

And if one is to say "we're all human", does that make us all thieves?
Posted by | Tuesday, June 15 2010 at 12:29PM ET
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