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Apple Computer’s shares fell on Friday, a day after the computer maker warned it may have to restate its financial results because an internal investigation had found further irregularities relating to its granting of stock options.

The company said it had delayed filing its most recent quarterly report with the Securities and Exchange Commission and its results from September 2002 onwards should not be relied upon.

The news came just one month after the maker of the popular iPod personal music player said it did not anticipate “any material adjustment” to its financial results as a result of its investigation.

Analysts expressed surprise at the company’s reversal. “Clearly this is a negative development that reflects poorly on the integrity of the managers involved,” said Richard Farmer, an analyst at Merrill Lynch.

Apple’s probe had earlier uncovered irregularities relating to some stock options grants, including one involving Steve Jobs, Apple’s co-founder and chief executive. That grant was later cancelled, according to Apple.

US authorities are investigating more than 80 companies whose managers are suspected of “backdating”, or manipulating the grant dates of stock options to coincide with low points in the value of their companies’ shares without disclosing their actions to shareholders.

Apple has not indicated that it is the subject of any formal investigation.

Revelations of improper backdating have forced a number of companies to restate several years’ worth of earnings. Last month, federal prosecutors handed down the first criminal charges related to the scandal.

Several analysts noted that Apple’s announcement on Thursday could represent a buying opportunity for the company’s shares, which have fallen more than 25 cent this year amid concerns over a potential slowdown in growth.

“From a high level, this issue slightly tarnishes Apple’s squeaky-clean image,” wrote Gene Munster, an analyst at Piper Jaffray. “But, more importantly, this does not impact Apple’s underlying fundamentals or ongoing business.”

However, uncertainties remain about the nature of the “irregularities” uncovered during the course of Apple’s internal investigation, and whether they may trigger management changes at the computer group.

Merrill Lynch’s Mr Farmer said the normally secretive Apple “has not provided enough information for us to assess how large or small the probability that the results of the investigation may trigger management changes, though this is a risk.”

Apple’s announcement comes at a sensitive time for the comapny, which faces legal challenges to its iPod business model in Europe and increased pressure in the US where Microsoft has announced plans to take on Apple’s dominance of the digital music market with its own line of music players and software.

By the close Apple’s shares were down 1.9 per cent at $68.30.

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