Stock options have been a part of executive pay at major U.S. corporations for approximately 100 years. They have had an important role for approximately 70 years, starting in the 1950s. They have gone through periods of extraordinary popularity (e.g., the 1990s) and have been less popular during periods when the stock markets were in the doldrums. They survived the change in accounting rules (2006) that now require them to be a charge against earnings. This post examines this history and takes a look at where options are today. 
Posts Tagged ‘Equity-based compensation’
In our paper, Executive Gatekeepers: Useful and Divertible Governance?, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we study the role of executive gatekeepers in preventing governance failures, and the counter-incentive effects created by equity compensation. Specifically, we examine the following two questions. First, do executive gatekeepers actually improve governance in the average firm? Second, does the effectiveness of gatekeepers in ensuring compliance and/or reducing corporate misconduct depend on their incentive contracts?
Three categories of performers are rewarded for value creation in U.S. public corporations. They are: (1) the executives who manage the corporations; (2) the directors who oversee the performance of these corporations; and (3) the individual asset managers and others who provide investment services to investors who own, directly or indirectly, these corporations.
The following post takes a look at the correlation between the long-term incentive compensation of these three categories of performers and long-term value creation in U.S. public corporations that is attributable to them. In fact, such correlation appears to be limited. In addition, the article will consider a definition of “long-term” value creation, the roles of these three categories of performers in creating “long-term” value and the methods of compensating these different categories of performers in their respective roles in “long-term” value creation.
Corporations rely on dividends, share repurchases, or a combination of both payout methods to return earnings to their shareholders. Over the last decade, the importance of the dominating payout method—dividends—seems to be somewhat eroded at UK firms, with an increasing number of firms combining share repurchases with dividends. What explains the surge in the use of combined share repurchases and dividends in the UK? Is there a link between firm’s payout decision and executive remuneration?
How do shareholders motivate managers to pursue innovations that result in patents when substantial potential costs exist to managers who do so? This question has taken on special importance as promoting these kinds of innovations has become a critical element of not only the competition between companies, but also the competition between nations. In our paper, Motivating Innovation in Newly Public Firms, forthcoming in the Journal of Financial Economics, we address this question by providing empirical tests of predictions arising from recent theoretical studies of this issue.
In our paper, Managerial Risk Taking Incentives and Corporate Pension Policy, forthcoming in the Journal of Financial Economics, we examine whether the compensation incentives of top management affect the extent of risk shifting versus risk management behavior in pension plans.
The employee beneficiaries of a firm’s defined benefit pension plan hold claims on the firm similar to those held by the firm’s debtholders. Beneficiaries are entitled to receive a fixed stream of cash flows starting at retirement. The firm sponsoring the plan is required to set aside assets in a trust to fund these obligations, but if the sponsor goes bankrupt with insufficient assets to fund pension obligations, beneficiaries are bound to accept whatever reduced payouts can be made with the assets secured for the plan.
In our paper, A Theory of Debt Maturity: The Long and Short of Debt Overhang, forthcoming in the Journal of Finance, we study the effects of the debt maturity on current and future real investment decisions of an owner of equity (or a manager who is compensated by equity). Our analysis is based on debt overhang first analyzed by Myers (1977), who points out that outstanding debt may distort the firm’s investment incentives downward. A reduced incentive to undertake profitable investments when decision makers seek to maximize equity value is referred to as a problem of “debt overhang,” because part of the return from a current new investment goes to make existing debt more valuable.
Myers (1977) suggests a possible solution of short-term debt to the debt overhang problem. In part, this extends the idea that if all debt matures before the investment opportunity, then the firm without debt in place can make the investment decision as if an all-equity firm. Hence, following this logic, debt that matures soon—although after relevant investment decisions, as opposed to before—should have reduced overhang.
Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (ISS) recently published its 2014 Corporate Governance Policy Updates, which would apply to annual meetings beginning in February 2014. ISS updated relatively few of its policies this year, but the changes largely represent a more measured, company-specific approach to corporate governance practices, which reflects a move by ISS to avoid “one-size-fits-all” policies and recommendations. ISS also announced a new consultation and comment period concerning potential policy changes applicable to the 2015 proxy season or beyond with respect to director tenure, director independence, independent chair shareholder proposals, equity-based compensation plans and auditor ratification.
2014 Policy Updates
Board Response to Majority Supported Shareholder Proposals. As announced last year, ISS evaluates a company’s response to shareholder proposals that receive a majority of shares cast in considering “withhold” recommendations against the full board, committee members or individual directors. With respect to such majority supported shareholder proposals, ISS will now make vote recommendations on director elections on a case-by-case basis and will no longer require boards to fully implement majority supported shareholder proposals in all cases. Instead, ISS will consider mitigating factors in cases involving less than full implementation, including the board’s articulated rationale for its response and level of implementation (with consideration of such rationales being a new factor not previously considered by ISS), disclosed shareholder outreach efforts by the board in the wake of the vote, the level of support and opposition for the proposal, actions taken, and the continuation of the underlying issue as a voting item on the ballot (as either shareholder or management proposals).
In our paper, Determinants and Trading Performance of Equity Deferral Choices by Corporate Outside Directors, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we investigate the determinants and trading performance of outside directors’ “equity deferrals,” which represent the choice to convert part or all of the current cash compensation into deferred company stock. Director equity deferrals are interesting for two reasons. First, by deferring, the directors give up a sure amount of cash today for firm stock with an uncertain future value, while at the same time substantially increasing the proportion of their compensation that is tied to future firm performance. Second, the equity deferrals can become a form of insider trading, because directors can use these options as a tax-advantaged alternative to open-market purchases of the firm’s stock.
We examine director equity deferrals using a hand-collected sample of U.S. firms that allowed outside board members to defer their cash compensation into equity between 1999 and 2003. We first focus on the factors affecting director equity deferral choices. Consistent with a certainty equivalent story, we find that directors are more likely to defer cash into equity when they receive higher cash compensation levels and when the plans offer premiums for deferrals made into equity. Deferral likelihood also increases with the size of the taxes that are deferred.
In our paper, Equity Vesting and Managerial Myopia, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we study the link between real investment decisions and the vesting horizon of a CEO’s equity incentives. We find that research and development (“R&D”) is negatively associated with the stock price sensitivity of stock and options that vest over the course of the same year. This association continues to hold when including advertising and capital expenditure in the investment measure. Moreover, CEOs with significant newly-vesting equity are more likely to meet or beat analyst consensus forecasts by a narrow margin. However, the market recognizes such CEOs’ incentives to inflate earnings—the lower announcement returns to meet or beating earnings forecasts are decreasing in the sensitivity of vesting equity. These results provide empirical support for managerial myopia theories.
Many academics and practitioners believe that managerial myopia is a first-order problem faced by the modern firm. While the 20th century firm emphasized cost efficiency, Porter (1992) argues that “the nature of competition has changed, placing a premium on investment in increasingly complex and intangible forms,” such as innovation, employee training, and organizational development. However, the myopia theories of Stein (1988, 1989) show that managers may fail to invest due to concerns with the firm’s short-term stock price. Since the benefits of intangible investment are only visible in the long run, the immediate effect of such investment is to depress earnings and thus the current stock price. Therefore, a manager aligned with the short-term stock price may turn down valuable investment opportunities.