SEC closes probe into Avon's disclosures to analysts

WASHINGTON Thu Sep 13, 2012 6:07pm EDT

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission logo adorns an office door at the SEC headquarters in Washington, June 24, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission logo adorns an office door at the SEC headquarters in Washington, June 24, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. securities regulators do not plan take any action stemming from an investigation into whether Avon Products Inc executives improperly shared information with analysts, Avon said on Thursday.

The staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission's enforcement division told the company it doesn't intend to recommend any enforcement action against the company, Avon said in a regulatory filing.

The disclosure follows a year-long investigation that led to the firing of Avon's former vice chairman, Chuck Cramb.

The SEC had been examining whether Cramb shared material information with a Citigroup analyst when he spoke to her about a separate bribery probe into the cosmetics company, and told her any misconduct unearthed by that inquiry appeared to be limited to China.

Such information could violate Regulation FD, which bars companies from tipping off analysts and investors about material information. In January, Avon said Cramb was leaving the company in connection with the investigation.

A SEC spokeswoman declined comment.

The conclusion of the disclosure probe lifts one of many clouds over Avon, which is in the process of trying to turn its business around under new CEO Sheri McCoy, who took the reins in April from longtime chief Andrea Jung.

The company launched an internal probe in 2008 into whether its executives had broken U.S. laws meant to prevent companies from paying bribes overseas. The SEC and the Justice Department, which enforce the foreign bribery law, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, opened their own inquiries.

The company's investigation initially focused on China, but spread to other countries including Brazil, Russia and France, and has led to dismissals and departures in the past year-and-a-half.

Two months ago, McCoy said on a conference call that Avon was in the early stages of settlement talks for the bribery probe, raising hopes on Wall Street that the company was getting closer to putting an expensive distraction behind it.

A lawyer for the company, Claudius Sokenu of Arnold & Porter, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting By Aruna Viswanatha in Washington and Phil Wahba in New York; Editing by Bernard Orr)

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