US regulators are examining Apple Inc's disclosures about Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs' health problems to ensure investors weren't misled, a person familiar with the matter said.
The Securities and Exchange Commission's review doesn't mean investigators have seen evidence of wrongdoing, the person said, declining to be identified because the inquiry isn't public.
Bloomberg News reported last week that Jobs is considering a liver transplant as a result of complications after treatment for cancer, according to people who are monitoring his illness.
Investors have been pressing for information on Jobs' health since June, when he appeared noticeably thinner at an Apple event. The company's stock whipsawed this month after Jobs, who battled pancreatic cancer in 2004, said he would remain CEO while seeking a "relatively simple" treatment for a nutritional ailment. Nine days later, Jobs said he would take a five-month medical leave after learning his health issues were "more complex".
"The good news flipped by the bad news makes one wonder what Apple knew," said James Cox, a law professor at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. "It's not surprising for the SEC to come in and look afterward, given the pressure and publicity regarding their handling of a lot of cases," such as criticism of the SEC's response to Bernard Madoff's alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme.
SEC spokesman John Nester declined to comment on the Apple inquiry. Steve Dowling, a spokesman for Cupertino, California-based Apple, declined to comment.
Apple's shares rose 4.2 percent on Jan 5 after Jobs said he had been diagnosed with a hormone imbalance that caused him to lose weight throughout 2008 and "that has been robbing me of the proteins my body needs to be healthy". It was the first public disclosure of Jobs' health since August 2004, when he revealed he had undergone successful surgery to remove a neuroendocrine islet cell tumor, a rare, slow-growing type of cancer that affects as many as 3,000 people in the US annually.
Apple stock has dropped 8.4 percent since the company disclosed on Jan 14 that Jobs, 53, would be on medical leave through June. The shares fell $4.13, or 5 percent, to $78.20 yesterday in NASDAQ Stock Market trading.
Apple has declined to provide specifics of the illness and Jobs said he won't comment further about his health. "Why don't you guys leave me alone - why is this important?" he said in a telephone interview with Bloomberg News on Jan 16.
To bring any case, the SEC would probably have to show the company tried to benefit by withholding information about an unambiguous diagnosis, said Peter Henning, a former federal prosecutor and SEC lawyer who now teaches at Wayne State University Law School in Detroit.