CEO compensation in U.S. public firms has attracted a great deal of empirical work. Yet our understanding of the contractual terms that govern CEO compensation and especially how the compensation committee ties CEO compensation to performance is still incomplete. The main reason is that CEO compensation contracts are, in general, not observable. For the most part, firms disclose only the realized amounts that their CEOs receive at the end of any given year. The terms by which the board determines these amounts are not fully disclosed.
Posts Tagged ‘Pay for performance’
The Dodd-Frank law took effect July 21, 2010.  Subtitle E of Title IX of Dodd-Frank addresses “Accountability and Executive Compensation” (§§951-957). Since the enactment of the act, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has adopted final rules as to two of the provisions, proposed rules as to two others and has not yet proposed (but has announced it will be proposing) rules as to another three provisions. This post summarizes the current status of regulation projects under Dodd-Frank Sections 951 through 957.
The financial industry is heavily regulated. Whether it is in terms of spending or number of employees, financial regulation represents more than a third of all business- and industry-related regulation in the United States (De Rugy and Warren, 2009), even though the financial sector only contributes to 10% of the country’s GDP. However, many commentators express grave doubts about the current efficacy of financial regulation. For example, The Economist published a 2010 article entitled “Finance’s other bosses” in which it asked: “Does it really matter who is in charge of the regulators? The grunt work of supervision depends on more junior staff, who will always struggle to keep tabs on smarter, better-paid types in the firms they regulate.”
In our recent ECGI working paper, Are Female Top Managers Really Paid Less?, we focus on the gender wage gap of executive directors in the UK. In particular, we ask the question whether female top managers are paid less than their male counterparts, whether the gender wage gap is higher in male dominated industries (such as financial services etc.), and what effects female non-executive directors and remuneration consultants exert on pay.
High-water mark (HWM) contracts are the predominant compensation structure for managers in the hedge fund industry. In the paper, Risk Choice under High-Water Marks, forthcoming in the Review of Financial Studies, I seek to understand the optimal dynamic risk-taking strategy of a hedge fund manager who is compensated under such a contract. This is both an interesting portfolio-choice question, and one with potentially important ramifications for the willingness of hedge funds to bear risk in their role as arbitrageurs and liquidity providers, especially in times of crises. High-water mark mechanisms are also implicit in other types of compensation structures, so insights from this question extend beyond hedge funds. An example is a corporate manager who is paid performance bonuses based on record earnings or stock price and whose choice of projects influences the firm’s level of risk.
Standard principal-agent theory prescribes that managers should not be compensated on exogenous risks, such as general market movements. Rather, firms should index pay and use contracts that filter exogenous risks (e.g., Holmstrom 1979, 1982; Diamond and Verrecchia 1982). This prescription is intuitive and agrees with common sense: CEOs should receive exceptional pay only for exceptional performance, and “rational” compensation practice should not permit CEOs to obtain windfall profits in rising stock markets. However, observed compensation contracts are typically not indexed. Specifically, stock options almost never tie the strike price of the option to an index that reflects market performance or the performance of peers. Commentators often cite this glaring difference between theory and practice as evidence for the inefficiency of executive compensation practice and, more generally, as evidence for major deficiencies of corporate governance in U.S. firms (e.g., Rappaport and Nodine 1999; Bertrand and Mullainathan 2001; Bebchuk and Fried 2004). This paper therefore contributes to the discussion about which compensation practices reveal deficiencies in the pay-setting process.
On November 21, 2013, Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (ISS) released updates to its proxy voting policies for the 2014 proxy season, effective for meetings held on or after February 1, 2014.  In addition, ISS has requested that companies notify it by December 9, 2013 of any changes to a company’s self-selected peer companies for purposes of benchmarking CEO compensation for the 2013 fiscal year.
This post provides guidance to US companies on how to address ISS policy changes and also highlights recent developments regarding potential regulation or self-regulation of proxy advisory firms.
The amendments to ISS proxy voting policies for the 2014 proxy season relate to:
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).
Over the last several years executive compensation has been an issue that has received a lot of attention from Wall Street, union pension funds, activists, and others. The Dodd-Frank Say-on-Pay mandate was put in place and early on there was surprising push back from shareholders. There were results that have been tracked about the impact of Say-on-Pay and the support from shareholders over several years that are as follows:
Based on the recent Towers Watson Research of approximately 13,050, roughly 3,000 companies show their positive results on Say-on-Pay in 2013 are up to 90% from 89% in 2012. The percentage of those companies receiving negative ISS board recommendations drop from 13 to 11 percent.
It is clear that company disclosures are better focused on explaining executive compensation generally. This is a result of a conclusion reached by Ning Chiu of Davis Polk, LLP. Companies are also more sensitive about those issues that will raise questions and possibly trigger negative proxy advisory firm recommendations. Clearly, the large companies are responding to shareholder Say-on-Pay concerns and are being advised by their outside counsels on the proper manner of preparing detailed compensation disclosure in their proxy statements. Further, we believe that many of these companies are reaching out to their large institutional investors and having a dialogue with them concerning compensation, getting feedback, and responding appropriately—so progress has been made.
Institutional Shareholder Services, the influential proxy advisory firm, has published for public comment two proposed changes to its proxy voting guidelines for U.S. companies. The proposals are limited and do not include any change related to the effect of longer board tenure on director independence. ISS had previously surveyed institutional investors and public companies on the topic of director tenure and received strong, but deeply split, responses from both constituencies. The proposed changes are: