Traditional models of crime frame the choice to engage in misbehavior like any other economic decision involving cost and benefit tradeoffs. Though somewhat successful when taken to the data, perhaps the theory’s largest embarrassment is its failure to account for the enormous variation in crime rates observed across both time and space. Indeed, as Glaeser, Sacerdote, and Scheinkman (1996) argue, regional variation in demographics, enforcement, and other observables are simply not large enough to explain why, for example, two seemingly identical neighborhoods in the same city have such drastically different crime rates. The answer they propose is simple: social interactions induce positive correlations in the tendency to break rules.
Posts Tagged ‘Peer groups’
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:
In our paper, Do Fraudulent Firms Engage in Disclosure Herding?, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we present two new hypotheses regarding the strategic qualitative disclosure choices of firms involved in potentially fraudulent activity. First, these firms have incentives to herd with industry peers in order to escape detection. Second, these firms have incentives to locally anti-herd with the same peers on specific aspects of disclosure consistent with achieving fraud-driven objectives. We use text-based analysis of firm disclosures and compare disclosures across firms involved in SEC enforcement actions to benchmarks based on industry, size and age, and also to each firm’s own disclosure before and after SEC alleged violations.
We hypothesize that firms involved in potentially fraudulent activity face tensions when providing qualitative disclosures to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the agency tasked with enforcing anti-fraud laws. Our focus is on the Management’s Discussion and Analysis section of the 10-K, which is where managers have a high level of discretion to describe the key issues facing their firms and to describe their performance in detail. A primary motive is to escape detection, and managers who assume that the SEC is less likely to scrutinize disclosures that resemble industry peers, or that such disclosure is less likely to raise red flags, have incentives to herd with industry peers. On the other hand, the same objectives that lead managers to commit fraud may also provide incentives to anti-herd in their disclosure from industry peers. However, these latter incentives are likely more localized, and anti-herding would be predicted only on disclosure dimensions that might help managers to achieve these objectives.
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:
In our paper, Pay Harmony: Peer Comparison and Executive Compensation, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we find evidence consistent with the presence of peer comparison influencing pay policies for executives inside firms. Our underlying approach is to measure changes in pay co-movement, disparity and productivity using a 1992 SEC ruling that mandated greater disclosure of top executive pay. We argue that this ruling led to greater awareness of pay and, hence, greater peer comparison throughout all managerial ranks, particularly in non-proximate managers who had natural information barriers prior to the ruling.
We present the results of three analyses that, taken together, support the argument that firms’ pay policies respond to peer comparison and concerns about internal equity. In general, we find evidence that pay variance within firms, pay distance between managers and division productivity all increased during this period. However, we find that these measures increased less among firms and managers that were more affected by the 1992 SEC disclosure rule. Specifically, after the new regulation, we find increases in PRS (pay-referent sensitivity)—or greater co-movement of division manager pay—and decreases in PPS (pay-performance sensitivity) in geographically-dispersed firms, but not in concentrated firms.
Changes in the level and dispersion of CEO compensation since the early 1990s have triggered an increasingly heated debate over whether current compensation practices primarily reflect the equilibrium outcome of the CEO labor market or the power of entrenched CEOs. One factor in this debate is the practice of compensation benchmarking in which firms justify their CEO’s compensation by comparing it to the pay packages of a group of companies with highly paid CEOs. Firms rationalize this group by claiming they compete for managerial talent with those selected peer companies. In the paper, Is Disclosure an Effective Cleansing Mechanism? The Dynamics of Compensation Peer Benchmarking, forthcoming in the Review of Financial Studies, we examine the dynamics of the peer benchmarking process. Specifically, we investigate whether the 2006 regulation requiring firms to disclose their compensation peer group members has mitigated opportunistic firm behavior in benchmarking against self-selected peer companies with highly paid CEOs.
In the paper, Executive Superstars, Peer Groups and Over-Compensation — Cause, Effect and Solution, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we develop a pragmatic approach to understanding the run-up in CEO compensation over the past several decades. Rather than looking to markets or captured boards for the explanation, we argue that the actual mechanical process of peer benchmarking by which pay is set is the cause of the present controversy. From this perspective, we present what we believe will be an effective solution; additionally and collaterally, some interesting lessons about executive recruitment, particularly the CEO “superstar” culture, may be gleaned from our findings. We thank the Investor Responsibility Research Center Institute, which has long funded compensation research, for their financial support and helpful assistance in the development of this paper.
The piece makes a contribution to the executive compensation literature as it offers a novel explanation for the perpetual rise in CEO pay and suggests a significantly different solution to the compensation controversy. As boards have typically looked outside the organization to set CEO pay, we argue that this approach, known as “peer grouping,” is seriously flawed as it relies on the notion of an easy transferability of executive talent which empirically, is incorrect. Therefore, boards should look within the organization itself rather than to external comparators to create an appropriate CEO pay structure. We suggest that this approach should begin to resolve the CEO compensation problem.
Investors have for a number of years expressed concerns over pay disparities between that of the chief executive officer and the next highest paid executive at U.S. corporations. The State of Connecticut pension system gave voice in 2008 to these concerns by filing shareholder proposals calling for enhanced disclosure of how internal pay equity factors into the pay-setting process. The targeted corporations were receptive to those concerns and agreed to implement the pension fund’s substantive demands.
Moreover, credit ratings agency Moody’s suggests pay gap multipliers in excess of three times the pay of the second highest paid officer can adversely affect a company’s cost of capital and debt rating. A high ratio between CEO pay and compensation for other named executives can indicate the company is CEO-centric, with associated CEO succession risk, according to Moody’s.  The ratings agency acknowledges that high internal pay equity can be a reflection of a CEO’s influence and centrality to a company, though argues “such a large disparity may indicate … concentration of power in the CEO.”
The enhanced executive compensation disclosures mandated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in 2006 have provided a significant new data set for investors and companies to analyze and benchmark pay practices across a broad set of U.S. corporate issuers.
Moreover, precisely how companies choose to benchmark their pay practices has received much attention following the outcry over Wall Street payouts and the recent promulgation of legislation requiring most U.S. issuers put their pay to a precatory shareholder vote.
Against this backdrop, Executive Pay Through a Peer Benchmarking Lens summarizes key findings from ISS Corporate Services’ study of almost 15,000 Def 14A filings over the past four years. Drawing on ISS’ executive compensation database, the focus of the analysis is on both pay levels as well as the processes by which companies benchmark their pay relative to peers.
In the paper, Relative Performance Evaluation and Related Peer Groups in Executive Compensation Contracts, forthcoming in The Accounting Review, we examine the explicit use of relative performance evaluation (RPE) and related peer groups based on S&P 1500 firms’ first proxy disclosures under the SEC’s 2006 executive compensation disclosure rules. Prior empirical research offers mixed evidence on the use of RPE in executive compensation contracts based on an implicit approach. The implicit approach infers RPE use by regressing executive pay on industry performance across a population of firms, and thus relies on simplified assumptions concerning RPE contract details. We demonstrate that a lack of knowledge of both RPE peer group composition and the link between RPE-based performance targets and future peer performance cloud inferences drawn from implicit tests. These findings highlight the limitations of the implicit approach and underscore the importance of incorporating explicit RPE contract details in testing for RPE use.