Ingram Micro Pays $15M Fine for Channel Stuffing Scheme

By Jessica Davis  |  Print this article Print


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IT distributor Ingram Micro and IT security vendor McAfee engaged in an elaborate channel stuffing scheme over two years at the height of the dot-com boom that artificially boosted Ingram Micro's profit margins and McAfee's revenues. Now Ingram Micro has paid a $15 million fine, adding to one paid by McAfee in 2006. The funds will be distributed to McAfee shareholders.

IT distributor Ingram Micro paid a hefty price for helping Network Associates (now McAfee) in an elaborate channel stuffing scheme over a period of two years that inflated Ingram Micro’s profit margins and McAfee’s revenues by hundreds of millions of dollars during the height of the dot-com boom.

Ingram Micro has paid a $15 million fine to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in compliance with the commission’s cease and desist order, issued May 12, 2009, an SEC spokesman confirms.

The fine will be added to the $50 million fine paid by McAfee in 2006 and will be ultimately distributed to those who were harmed by the scheme—McAfee investors—according to the SEC spokesman.

"Ingram Micro neither admits nor denies any wrongdoing regarding this matter, and is pleased that the settlement puts this issue to rest," an Ingram Micro spokeswoman tells Channel Insider.

The events in question began when McAfee switched its accounting to a "sell-in" method, accounting for goods sold to distribution as sold (rather than waiting for those goods to be sold to the end user).  

McAfee extended a series of discounts, rebates and other highly favorable terms to Ingram Micro, along with an unwritten agreement that would give Ingram Micro the right to return unsold products to McAfee, an unusual agreement during the time period—1998 to 2000, according to the SEC’s cease and desist order.

This agreement led to a circular arrangement in which Ingram Micro would accept more product than it reasonably expected it could sell, inflating McAfee’s revenues in the process. Between 1998 and 2000, McAfee overstated its revenues by $622 million in order to meet its revenue and earnings targets and understated its cumulative losses by $353 million, according to the SEC. At the same time, Ingram Micro, which normally kept just eight weeks of inventory on hand, built up its McAfee inventory to 22 months.

"During the relevant period, Ingram Micro and McAfee engaged in various circular transactions that were lacking in economic substance and were designed solely to inflate McAfee’s reported revenues," the SEC says in the document. "Ingram Micro profited from these transactions by receiving unearned compensation from sales that it did not originate."

According to the SEC, starting in Q2 of 1998, Ingram Micro’s Product Management Group realized that McAfee was willing to provide deep discounts and off-contract enhancements. And as a result, Ingram Micro changed its purchasing practices and began ordering "extraordinary large amounts" of McAfee products.

The practice resulted in significantly higher profit margins for Ingram Micro in return for taking on excess inventory from McAfee, and quickly making the McAfee account Ingram Micro’s most profitable vendor relationship.

The SEC document says that Ingram Micro retained the discounts regardless of whether it later sold the products or ended up returning them to a McAfee subsidiary called Net Tools.

"McAfee carried out this subterfuge by using a subsidiary called Net Tools to repurchase approximately $45.5 million of inventory it had sold to Ingram Micro," the SEC says in its cease and desist order. "In order to avoid accepting returns directly from Ingram Micro, McAfee acted as a reseller and instructed Ingram Micro to ship the products to buyers identified by McAfee. McAfee reimbursed Ingram Micro for the shipping costs and paid an inflated profit margin to Ingram Micro, even though Ingram Micro had done nothing to bring about the sale of the products."

McAfee has since restated its revenues and earnings from the period in question to reflect its actual performance, according to the SEC spokesman.

Ingram Micro accounted for losses associated with the issue in 2007 and expects no further adjustments to its financials, according to the Ingram Micro spokeswoman.

Jessica Davis covers the channel for eWeek and Channel Insider. Her technology journalism career began well before anyone heard of the World Wide Web and has included stints at Infoworld, Electronic News/EDN, and the Philadelphia Business Journal. Her work has also appeared on CNN and Forbes.com. She has covered hardware, software and networking, as well as the business side of technology. She has won several journalism awards, including a national ASBPE award for best staff-written column, and was named Marketing Computers hardest working tech journalist on their inaugural list of top tech journalists. Jessica can be reached at jessica.davis@ziffdavisenterprise.com

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