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.
Posts Tagged ‘Equity-based compensation’
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.
What motivates minority acquisitions? We study the trade-off between minority acquisitions, involving less than 50% of the target, and majority acquisitions in the forthcoming Review of Financial Studies paper, “What Motivates Minority Acquisitions? The Trade-Offs between a Partial Equity Stake and Complete Integration.” Minority acquisitions have been shown to facilitate cooperation between two independent firms. For example, Allen and Phillips (2000) and Fee, Hadlock, and Thomas (2006) show that a minority acquisition can align the incentives of the acquirer with those of the target. However, similar benefits can also be achieved with a majority acquisition, suggesting that minority stakes are also motivated as a means to avoid certain costs associated with majority control.
Using a sample of 2,166 deals, we identify several key predictors in the choice between a minority or majority acquisition. The key insight provided in this paper is the importance of costs associated with the dilution to target managerial incentives following a majority acquisition in selecting the mode of acquisition. Evidence that firms are willing to forgo benefits to control to preserve target incentives speaks to the value of these incentives.
As the 2013 proxy season is now underway, companies should be aware of the recent wave of lawsuits alleging breaches of fiduciary duties by management and directors in connection with compensation-related decisions. These suits allege deficient disclosure with respect to compensation-related proxy proposals and seek to enjoin the company’s annual meeting until supplemental disclosures are made. They primarily target proposals to increase the amount of shares reserved for equity compensation plans and advisory votes on executive compensation (say-on-pay). There also have been a handful of suits relating to proposals seeking to amend certificates of incorporation to increase the total number of authorized shares.
More than 20 such cases were filed in 2012, and the plaintiffs’ law firm predominantly initiating these suits has announced that it is investigating nearly 40 additional companies. These cases are typically filed shortly after a company files its definitive proxy statement and make generic accusations of inadequate disclosure. Some companies concerned about potential disruption to their annual meetings have been willing to settle these claims. There have been at least six reported settlements, all involving proposals to increase the number of shares authorized under equity plans. These settlements have generally involved supplemental disclosure and payment of up to $625,000 of plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees. Other companies have settled prior to the filing of a formal lawsuit. Although a preliminary injunction has been granted in only one of these cases, Knee v. Brocade Communications Systems, Inc., many cases in which preliminary injunctions were denied are still pending resolution regarding other relief requested by the plaintiffs, such as damages. An analysis of the claims made in filed cases to date may help companies decide whether to increase disclosure in their 2013 annual meeting proxy statements.
Pay for performance. As the dust settles from year two of Say on Pay proxy voting, and more companies coalesce around accepted pay practices, the top issue for both shareholders and companies is whether pay is aligned with performance. While there is general acceptance that the performance side of that equation should primarily be based on total shareholder return (TSR), there is not yet a commonly accepted definition for pay. The result is that widely divergent compensation numbers currently are being used in pay for performance analysis, leaving shareholders and others unclear on how to evaluate this critical issue.
The dramatic and unprecedented increase in CEO pay in the 1980s and 1990s led to questioning the efficiency of CEO compensation packages. The debate concentrated first on the pay-performance sensitivity and then moved to the compensation level, given the observed widening gap between the pay level of executive officers and other employees. However, another important change regarding CEOs took place over the same period—their working experience prior to being appointed as a CEO. Increasingly, boards of directors have hired CEOs outside their firm.
In our paper, Internal vs. External CEO Choice and the Structure of Compensation Contracts, forthcoming in the Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis, we provide a rationale for the simultaneous increases in (i) CEO pay, (ii) use of equity in compensation schemes, and (iii) hiring of CEOs externally.
In the paper, The Efficacy of Shareholder Voting: Evidence from Equity Compensation Plans, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, my co-authors (Christopher Armstrong of the University of Pennsylvania and Ian Gow of Harvard Business School) and I examine the efficacy of shareholder voting in effecting changes in corporate policy. We focus on the effects of shareholder voting on equity-based compensation plans on firms’ executive compensation policies for two reasons. First, equity compensation plans are widespread and require shareholder approval, making votes on these plans the most common subject of shareholder voting after director elections and auditor ratification. Second, equity compensation proposals attract much higher levels of shareholder disapproval than most other company-sponsored proposals that are put to shareholder vote (e.g., director elections and auditor ratification nearly always receive in excess of 90% shareholder support), making them a more powerful setting for empirical analysis.
Of the 619 management-sponsored proposals rejected by shareholders between 2001 and 2010, 183 (30%) related to equity compensation plans. For the 2,659 management-sponsored proposals where Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS), a leading proxy advisory firm, recommended a vote against the proposal, 1,719 (65%) related to equity compensation plans. Moreover, ISS recommended against 27% of the 6,270 equity compensation plans considered between 2001 and 2010. Although only 2% of equity compensation proposals fail to receive the required level of shareholder support, this is substantially larger than the 0.07% failure rate for director elections, which have received considerably greater attention in recent research on shareholder voting and executive compensation.
Though the global financial crisis of 2008 prompted a seismic shift in attitudes toward executive pay on the part of lawmakers, the public, investors, and other stakeholders, average compensation levels continue to rise or have returned to where they were before the crisis.
Mindful of the outcry over particular elements of pay packages, companies began scaling back bonus awards as well as payments related to “golden parachutes” and other forms of exit pay following the crisis.
Indeed, such components of executives’ total annual compensation declined in fiscal 2009 with some elements, including those dealing with exit pay, continuing to decline modestly into fiscal 2010.
But that has been more than offset through increases in other pay elements, most notably awards tied to company stock. The result is a 37 percent surge in total annual compensation paid to C-suite officers from fiscal 2008 to 2010 with stock awards now constituting more than half of the total pay pie.
As such, this post explores how the executive pay package mix and overall total annual compensation levels have changed since fiscal 2008 and the role played by stock-based awards in fueling the spike in total executive pay.
Hewlett-Packard’s announcement that it will no longer accelerate the vesting of equity grants for departing executives is the latest victory in a new push by active investors to limit such generous exit packages (a Wall Street Journal story about the announcement is available here).
The drive began in 2010 when Amalgamated Bank’s LongView Funds filed shareholder proposals at several companies urging them to back away from the long-standing practice of accelerating awards of restricted stock or stock options when an executive departs after a change in control or even without such a change. (Pro rata vesting would be allowed under these proposals.)
The LongView Funds argued that these equity awards were intended to be performance-based, and multi-million dollar awards that disregard vesting requirements have nothing to do with performance. The value of accelerated awards can often dwarf the amount paid in terms of the “base pay plus bonus” components of a severance agreement. Eight-figure payouts are not uncommon.
In our paper, The Effect of Auditor Expertise on Executive Compensation, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we examine how auditor expertise influences the amount of equity-based compensation that firms grant to their executives. Our empirical tests are motivated by recent theoretical models that examine how the potential for financial statement manipulation influences managerial equity-based compensation. While more equity incentives may induce better strategic decisions and greater effort, they also encourage the manager to manipulate financial reports to artificially inflate the stock price, especially if the manipulation is unlikely to be detected. These theories predict that managers will be granted more equity-based compensation when financial misreporting is more likely to be detected, as the costs of granting such compensation are lower.
Following prior studies that find that greater auditor expertise reduces the incidence of earnings management and improves audit quality, we expect firms audited by an auditor with greater industry expertise to grant their executives more equity-based compensation. We find strong evidence in favor of our prediction. In particular, greater the expertise of the firm’s auditor, more is the amount of equity-based compensation that firms grant to their CEOs. This result is not only statistically robust, but also economically significant – a one standard deviation increase in auditor expertise increases CEO equity compensation by 1.4% relative to the mean. As most of our sample firms are audited by a Big Five (or Big Four) auditor, our tests effectively compare differences in equity-based managerial compensation between Big Five industry experts versus Big Five non-industry-experts.