Two more IT groups in stock-option probe

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An online technology news network and a leading video games publisher have been sucked further into the gathering storm over stock-option grants.

San Francisco-based CNET Networks said it expected to restate financial statements to correct errors related to accounting for stock-based compensation.

Take-Two Interactive Software, based in New York, announced it had received notice from the Securities and Exchange Commission of an informal investigation into certain share options granted by the company from January 1997 to the present.

More than 60 companies have disclosed investigations into their share-option policies.

Many of them are in the technology sector and around half are based in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley.

The inquiries are centred on the timing of awards, in particular the possible backdating of grants to a low point in the company’s share price to improve the chances of recipients profiting from the options.

Improper accounting of this could lead companies to overstate their profits.

CNET had earlier established a special committee of independent directors to review its stock-option practices and related accounting.

It said on Monday the committee had reached the preliminary conclusion that actual measurement dates for certain stock options granted between 1998 and 2001 differed from the recorded measurement dates.

The effect is that CNET expects to record non-cash charges for stock-based compensation expenses in reporting periods from 1998 onwards, taking into account the vesting of the options in subsequent years.

The company said it believed the charges were material and it expected to restate results for 2003, 2004 and 2005 and possibly earlier years, as well as the first quarter of 2006.

It said it would not be able to file its quarterly report – Form 10-Q – for its second quarter “on a timely basis”.

Take-Two, best known for its Grand Theft Auto series of video games, said it had already set up an internal review, with independent directors, to look into its stock-option grants.

The company said it would co-operate fully with the SEC investigation.

While CNET shares dropped initially, they recovered to be 4.6 per cent higher at $7.94 in midday trading in New York. Take-Two shares were down nearly 4 per cent at $9.71.

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