UPDATE 1-US SEC closes probe into Avon's disclosures to analysts

Fri Sep 14, 2012 3:36am IST

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* SEC probe focused on exec's disclosure to Citi analyst

* Had shared info on separate bribery probe into Avon

* SEC told Avon it closed inquiry without pursuing action

* Avon in talks to settle wider bribery probe with SEC, DOJ

By Aruna Viswanatha and Phil Wahba

WASHINGTON, Sept 13 (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 br i bery 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.

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