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.
Posts Tagged ‘Equity-based compensation’
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.
The last decade has witnessed a renewed interest in the role of financial markets in disciplining managers. Shareholders—particularly blockholders—may induce good managerial behavior by exiting and pushing down stock prices when bad managerial actions are taken (e.g., Admati and Pfleiderer, 2009; Edmans, 2009; Edmans and Manso, 2011). In this regard, informed trading (“exit”) provides an alternative governance mechanism that shareholders can adopt in addition to the traditional “intervention” type of internal governance (e.g., Parrino et al., 2003; Chen et al., 2007; McCahery et al., 2010). Indeed, to some extent, exit and intervention offer substituting governance mechanisms that shareholders can select based on their trade-off between benefits and costs (e.g., Edmans and Manso, 2011; Edmans et al., 2013).
In our paper, Governance Through Threat: Does Short Selling Improve Internal Governance?, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we study how “trading-based governance” affects internal governance through the channel of short selling. Using a simple model, we argue that the threat of short-selling attacks triggered by bad managerial actions pushes existing shareholders to better control management, either through improved internal governance or via enhanced equity compensation. Thus, short-selling-based discipline mechanisms are complementary with, instead of substituting for, internal governance.
Louisiana Municipal Police Employees Retirement System v. Bergstein  concerns a $120 million equity grant to the Chief Executive Officer of Simon Property Group, Inc. (“SPG”) and a related amendment to SPG’s stock incentive plan that was required to make the grant. The shareholder plaintiff alleges that the board of directors’ amendment of the plan was a breach of fiduciary duty because the plan mandated shareholder approval of amendments where required by law, regulation or applicable stock exchange rules. The defendants moved to dismiss, noting that SPG had received email confirmation from New York Stock Exchange staff that shareholder approval of the amendment was not required under NYSE rules. Ruling from the bench, Chancellor Leo E. Strine, Jr. denied SPG’s motion to dismiss, citing concerns that a staff email did not serve as a definitive interpretation of NYSE rules – particularly where, in Chancellor Stine’s view, the email to the NYSE did not adequately describe the broader circumstances.
The process SPG used is the customary one by which listed companies receive interpretations from the NYSE staff on governance matters, and Chancellor Strine’s ruling is at an early stage of the case. However, until there is more definitive guidance as to the weight that courts will give NYSE staff interpretations, listed companies should bear in mind the Chancery Court’s ruling when evaluating the weight that a court will give an NYSE email interpretation on a governance matter, particularly when evaluating whether a proposed change to an equity compensation plan would require shareholder
In our paper, Downside Risk and the Design of CEO Incentives: Evidence from a Natural Experiment, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we investigate how downside risk influences the design of CEOs’ incentives. Studying the relationship between firm risk and managerial incentives is a difficult task due to the endogenous nature of the relationship: empiricists cannot easily disentangle the effect of compensation on risk from the effect of risk on compensation (Prendergast, 2002). We address the identification challenge by exploiting a randomized natural experiment that exogenously increased downside equity risk through the relaxation of short-selling constraints. Because the removal of short-selling constraints may cause an increase – or the fear of an increase – in bear raids and market manipulation by short-sellers (Goldstein and Guembel (2008)), this increase in downside risk potentially exposes managers to losses that are beyond their control. In this scenario, CEOs may sub-optimally reduce the risk of their firms to protect their personal wealth and firm-specific human capital (Amihud and Lev (1981), May (1995)). Consistent with this view, firms and their CEOs display an acute aversion to short-sellers, and go to great lengths to fight them and reduce their influence on stock prices (Lamont (2012)). As a result, firms that maximize shareholder value should respond to an exogenous increase in short selling activity by increasing their CEOs’ risk-taking incentives to avoid sub-optimal risk reduction policies, and/or by immunizing their CEOs against the downside risk that lies outside of their control and does not reflect their performance.
The SEC staff for the first time issued interpretive guidance regarding Section 402 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX). To date, in the absence of authoritative guidance, issuers have largely steered clear of activities arguably within the ambit of SOX 402′s prohibition on personal loans to officers and directors. The staff’s new letter provides a measure of clarity regarding SOX 402′s scope.
SOX 402, codified as Section 13(k) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, makes it unlawful for an issuer “directly or indirectly … to extend or maintain credit, to arrange for the extension of credit, or to renew an extension of credit, in the form of a personal loan” to any of its directors or executive officers. Violations of SOX 402 can subject issuers to civil and criminal penalties under Sections 21B and 32(a) of the Exchange Act.