A Billion Reasons to Avoid Symantec?

Turns out you're not the only one with tax problems, Fool. According to a filing made Monday with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Symantec (Nasdaq: SYMC  ) owes approximately $1 billion in back taxes. Ouch.

The problem, according to the filing, is a dispute over the taxability of transfer pricing between Symantec, recently acquired VERITAS, and foreign subsidiaries. The IRS says the accounting in question saved VERITAS $900 million in the 2000 and 2001 tax years and Symantec $100 million in the 2003 and 2004 fiscal years.

For its part, Symantec says it isn't in error and plans to take the Feds to tax court. It won't a pay a dime till the issue is fully resolved through legal channels. Nevertheless, nervous investors treated the stock like a skunk in a theater. The shares were down 5% at one point earlier in the week but have since recovered much of the lost ground.

It's not certain how much investors may lose if the IRS is right. (A billion dollars is a lot of moola, after all.) It may not be much, since Symantec already has enough cash on hand to cover the bill; according to the latest balance-sheet data from Capital IQ, the antivirus software maker is sitting on more than $2.3 billion in net cash. Moreover, Symantec generated roughly $1.2 billion in free cash flow over the trailing 12 months.

I suspect it will take years for all this to play out in the courts, which makes worrying about it now silly at best. But even if the worst happens, and Symantec is forced to cough up $1 billion, Fools may view the inevitable hit to the stock price as a buying opportunity. After all, aside from Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick McAfee (NYSE: MFE  ) , Symantec owns the franchise in antivirus software for Windows and the Mac. And users remain as susceptible to digital attacks today as they ever have been.

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Fool contributorTim Beyerswonders when investors will panic sell shares in the companies he owns. None of them were listed in this story at the time of publication. You can find out which others he owns by checking Tim's Foolprofile. The Motley Fool has an ironcladdisclosure policy.


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