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Apple appears to have dodged bullet in options scandal

The worst fears facing Apple Inc. and its investors —that members of the company's current leadership could face criminal charges over misdated stock option grants —appear as if they will not materialize, investment bank Goldman Sachs said Tuesday.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, one of two former Apple executives suspected of wrongdoing in the company's options mess has settled with the SEC, while another still faces civil charges surrounding issues with backdated Apple options.

"The article indicates that the SEC case against Apple's former CFO [Fred Anderson] is now closed," analyst David Bailey wrote in a commentary to investors. "Now it's a matter of coming to some kind of resolution on the case against Apple's former legal counsel [Nancy Heinen], which sounds like it may be imminent."

Bailey noted that the "overhanging risk" on Apple shares has primarily centered around the possibility of criminal charges against current senior members of management, in particular its famed chief executive and innovative inspiration Steve Jobs.

"The civil charges against Apple's former CFO and chief counsel would suggest that the largest risk - criminal charges against any of Apple's current management team – may not materialize, mostly removing a nagging overhang for the stock," he wrote.

The Goldman Sachs analyst said the apparent resolution allows for his fundamental thesis on the Cupertino-based firm to remain intact —namely, that a powerful product cycle and upside in the back half of the year should help power company shares.

While the move towards a positive resolution in the backdating scandal should provide a near-term boost to Apple shares, Bailey warned that the stock could give back any such gains following the company's earnings announcement on Wednesday.

That's because Apple is likely to provide unusually conservative guidance for its fiscal third quarter in light of the delay affecting its next-generation Leopard operating system, the analyst said. The move could "potentially exaggerated seasonality for iPod" in front of the iPhone launch in June, he added.

With Leopard now set to launch in October, rather than June, Apple will forgo an estimate $50 to $75 million in revenues from the software during its third quarter. With Apple reaping an estimated 85 percent gross margin on its operating system software, it will have to account for the loss of about $0.05 in earnings per share as a result of the delay, according to recent calculations by Citigroup analyst Richard Gardner.