So now Steve Jobs is sick and a crook? Apparently, the Securities and Exchange Commission thinks it's a possibility. Bloomberg reports that the SEC is investigating whether investors were misled by Jobs' health disclosures.
Say it ain't so. Not because I own shares of Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) , but because it would be a profound waste of precious SEC resources.
He's still innocent till proven guilty, right?
Fortune writer Philip Elmer-DeWitt, a longtime Apple watcher, writes that the legal standard for proving Jobs and Apple guilty of wrongdoing is remarkably high. Regulators would have to show that Apple or Jobs (or both) intended to profit from selective disclosure.
Anything's possible, I suppose, but Jobs hardly sounds like someone bent on profiting from his health problems. "Why don't you guys leave me alone -- why is this important?" Jobs told Bloomberg in a phone interview last week, after specious reports surfaced that he might be subject to a liver transplant.
The difference between disclosure and deception
Readers could rightly point out that I've criticized Jobs for poor disclosure. I still believe that investors ought to have enough data to assess the chances of him retiring because of illness.
That we don't yet know more tells us only that Jobs is an intensely private man who doesn't wish to talk about the nature of his condition. I completely understand. But as I've written, Steve is more important to Apple than most other CEOs are to their firms. Certainly more than Dell's (Nasdaq: DELL ) Michael Dell, IBM's (NYSE: IBM ) Sam Palmisano, or Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) Eric Schmidt. There's no escaping the need for some details -- but only enough for investors to make a fair assessment of risk.
So far, Jobs hasn't complied. That's certainly troubling, but I just can't see how it's a crime.
Dear SEC regulators, please spend your time on real stock market scandals, like the brouhaha over disappeared Florida manager Arthur Nadel, who has apparently made off with as much as $350 million of his clients' money. That's worth investigating. Jobs, not so much.
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