The Coca-Cola Co. announced a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission related to allegations that the company used a channel-stuffing practice known as "gallon pushing" to meet earnings expectations.
The Atlanta-based soft drink giant also announced that the Justice Department closed its investigation without action into allegations of fraud raised by a former employee.
The moves mark an end to government inquiries initiated in 2003. The SEC settlement doesn't involve a monetary fine or penalty and the company did not admit or deny the commission's findings.
"Under the settlement, we have agreed to maintain certain measures that the company implemented prior to or during the last two years and to undertake additional remedial actions in the areas of corporate compliance and disclosure," chairman and chief executive Neville Isdell said in a statement issued to Coke employees this week.
The SEC said that while Coca-Cola's accounting treatment for sales made in connection with "gallon pushing" -- by which it pressured its Japanese bottlers to buy excess beverage concentrate to pull sales forward into a current period -- "was found to be without issue," the company had violated the antifraud and periodic reporting requirements of federal securities laws by failing to disclose the impact of gallon pushing on current and future earnings and by making false and misleading statements and omissions in an 8-K that it filed with the SEC in January 2000.
The SEC said that the practice contributed approximately $0.01 to $0.02 to Coca-Cola's quarterly earnings per share, and helped the company meet analysts' earnings estimates in eight out of the 12 quarters between 1997 and 1999.Katherine Addleman, associate director of enforcement for the commission's Atlanta District Office, said that the company "took laudable and substantial steps" to enhance and strengthen its disclosure review process to prevent future occurrences.
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