Today [February 9, 2015], the Commission issued proposed rules on Disclosure of Hedging by Employees, Officers and Directors. These congressionally-mandated rules are designed to reveal whether company executive compensation policies are intended to align the executives’ or directors’ interests with shareholders. As required by Section 955 of the Dodd-Frank Act, these proposed rules attempt to accomplish this by adding new paragraph (i) to Item 407 of Regulation S-K, to require companies to disclose whether they permit employees and directors to hedge their companies’ securities.
Posts Tagged ‘Incentives’
In conjunction with his State of the Union address, President Obama reanimated the idea of taxing big banks’ debts to help stabilize the banking industry and prevent future financial crises. The administration argues that the new tax would discourage banks from taking on too much risk by making it “more costly for the biggest financial firms to finance their activities with excessive borrowing.”
The president’s bank-tax proposal is unlikely to gain traction in the new Congress, just as similar proposals from the administration in 2010 and, last year from the now retired Rep. David Camp (R., Mich.), did not move forward. But even if it became law, it wouldn’t put a sizable dent in bank debt. The reason is simple: The existing tax system strongly encourages debt finance and the proposed new tax will not fundamentally change this.
1. What is the basis for ISS’ new scorecard approach for evaluating equity compensation proposals?
The new policy will allow more nuanced consideration of equity incentive programs, which are critical for motivating and aligning the interests of key employees with shareholders, but which also fuel the lion’s share of executive pay and may be costly without providing superior benefits to shareholders. While most plan proposals pass, they tend to get broader and deeper opposition than, for example, say-on-pay proposals (e.g., only 60% of Russell 3000 equity plan proposals garnered support of 90% or more of votes cast in 2014 proxy season, versus almost 80% of say-on-pay proposals that received that support level). The voting patterns indicate that most investors aren’t fully satisfied with many plans.
There is an important difference between the price paid for a business enterprise and the intrinsic value of that enterprise. As Benjamin Graham said, “Price is what you pay; value is what you get.” Warren Buffett has made himself and many others wealthy by understanding this difference and making investments accordingly.
Part I of this post looks briefly at the intrinsic value versus the market price (sometimes the latter is referred to as market value or market cap) of a publicly traded corporation. Part II looks at current design of long-term incentives awarded to the management of such corporations. These awards tend to be tied to short-term increase in the market price of the corporation’s stock. Part III suggests a way in which long-term incentive awards might be tied more to generators of long-term value of the corporations awarding them.
The use of long-term incentives, the principal delivery vehicle of executive compensation, has long been sensitive to external influences. A steady source of this influence has come under the guise of legislative reform with mixed results. In 1950, after Congress gave stock options capital gains tax treatment, the use of stock options surged as employers sought to avoid ordinary income tax rates as high as 91%. Some forty years later, Congress added Section 162(m) to the tax code in an attempt to rein in excessive executive pay by limiting the deduction on compensation over $1 million to certain executives. Stock options qualified for a performance-based exemption leading to a spike in stock option grants to CEOs at S&P 500 companies.
Fast forward twenty years and the form and magnitude of long-term incentives continues to be a hot button populist issue. The 2010 Dodd Frank Act introduced U.S. publicly-traded companies to Say on Pay giving shareholders a direct channel to voice their support or opposition for a company’s pay practices. Another legislative addition to the litany of unintended consequences, Say on Pay has magnified the growing number of interested parties, increased the influence of proxy advisory groups such as Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) and Glass Lewis, heightened sensitivity to federal regulators, and provoked the increased interaction of activist investors.
Investors, directors and corporate executive management share common interests when it comes to company performance and economic value creation.
Yet, whilst this commonality is laudable, a review of performance measurement and long-term incentive plan design for USA public companies identifies that current practice is less than clear in measuring and aligning these interests in a manner that is robust and meaningful.
Corporate executives pay considerable attention to secondary market prices and they have strong incentives to maintain or increase the level of their firms’ stock prices. The accounting literature has long recognized that managers can make strategic financial reporting or disclosure choices to influence stock prices. A large body of empirical research examines whether and how corporate disclosures affect stock prices. The literature, however, provides little directional evidence on whether the behavior of stock prices has a causal effect on managerial strategic disclosure decisions. The difficulty in establishing causality stems largely from the endogenous nature of stock prices. In the paper, Short Selling Pressure, Stock Price Behavior, and Management Forecast Precision: Evidence from a Natural Experiment, which is forthcoming in Journal of Accounting Research, we use a randomized experiment, the Regulation SHO pilot program, to examine the causal effect of stock price behavior on managers’ voluntary disclosure choices.
Anytime you hire someone there is always a risk that they will not complete their task with the level of diligence that you had anticipated. Unless you monitor the hired party at all times, which can be extremely inefficient, they always have the temptation to “shirk” their responsibilities and avoid the hard work required to do an excellent job. In our paper, FORE! An Analysis of CEO Shirking, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we provide evidence that some CEOs of public companies in the U.S. succumb to the same temptation to shirk their duties to shareholders by choosing leisure consumption over the hard work required to maximize firm values.
Since 2010, performance-contingent awards have been the most widely used long-term incentive (LTI) grant type among the Top 250 companies  and are now in use by 89% of the sample. The prevalence of performance awards and investor preferences have spurred considerable interest in relative total shareholder return (TSR) as a performance metric. Relative TSR measures a company’s shareholder returns  against an external comparator group and eliminates the need to set multi-year goals. Use of relative TSR performance awards among the Top 250 companies has increased from 29% in 2010 to 49% in 2014, and relative TSR is now the most prevalent measure used to evaluate company performance for performance awards.
In our paper, Strategic News Releases in Equity Vesting Months, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we study the link between the equity vesting schedules of CEOs and the timing of corporate news releases. We show that, in months in which the CEO has equity vesting, the firm releases more news. This is an easy way to pump up the short-term stock price, as news attracts attention to the stock. This attention also increases trading volume, which allows the CEO to cash out his equity in a more liquid market. Indeed, we find that these news releases lead to significant increases in the stock price and trading volume in a 16-day window, but the effect dies down over 31 days, consistent with a temporary attention boost. The median CEO cashes out all of his vesting equity within seven days—within the window of price and volume inflation.