(Nov. 21) LEWISVILLE, Texas — The stock price of Fleming Cos. Inc., the nation’s leading grocery distributor, is rebounding slightly despite the fact the wholesaler announced Nov. 13 the Securities and Exchange Commission had launched an informal inquiry into its accounting and vendor trade practices.

The day after the announcement, however, Fleming shares on the New York Stock Exchange fell sharply 14.3%, or 86 cents, to $5.14, trading as low as $4.91 earlier in the day. Fleming stock closed at $6.26 Nov. 21.

Fleming officials in a news release stated the preliminary fact-finding inquiry will focus on the company’s vendor trade practices, how the wholesaler presented its second-quarter 2001 adjusted earnings-per-share data in news releases and how the company calculated its same store sales in its discontinued retail operations.

In a Nov. 14 memo to Fleming employees, Mark Hansen, Fleming’s chairman of the board and chief executive officer, said, “The informal inquiry by the SEC is just that — informal. It does not mean that Fleming has done anything wrong. It is a review of several matters that have been publicly disclosed.”

Robert Goch, an analyst with Miller Tabak Roberts Securities, New York, said the most serious issues are vendor promotional allowances — also known as slotting fees — and vendor deductions.

“The inquiry could be serious,” he said. “There always exists the possibility that the company may have to restate its numbers.”

Goch said he thinks the inquiry will look into all types of issues, including deductions and how allowances were booked. He said it could be simply a timing issue between reporting periods or something more.

Hansen said he hoped the review doesn’t detract from the company’s announcement to sell 28 of its California Food4Less stores to Save Mart Supermarkets, Modesto, Calif.

Fleming is trying to transform itself into a pure wholesale grocery distributor by selling its 100 retail stores. No buyers have been announced for its Minnesota-based 44-store Rainbow Foods chain.

Food wholesaler and retailer Nash Finch Co., Edina, Minn., announced Nov. 11 that the SEC was conducting an inquiry into its promotional allowances.