Tag: Equity-based compensation


Tying Incentives of Executives to Long-Term Value Creation

Joseph Bachelder is special counsel in the Tax, Employee Benefits & Private Clients practice group at McCarter & English, LLP. The following post is based on an article by Mr. Bachelder, with assistance from Andy Tsang, which first appeared in the New York Law Journal. Research from the Program on Corporate Governance on long-term incentive pay includes Paying for Long-Term Performance by Lucian Bebchuk and Jesse Fried (discussed on the Forum here).

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.

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Long-term Incentive Grant Practices for Executives

The following post comes to us from Frederic W. Cook & Co., Inc., and is based on a publication by James Park and Lanaye Dworak. The complete publication is available here. An additional publication authored by Mr. Park on the topic of executive compensation was discussed on the Forum here. Research from the Program on Corporate Governance on long-term incentive pay includes Paying for Long-Term Performance by Lucian Bebchuk and Jesse Fried, discussed on the Forum here.

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.

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2014 Director Compensation Report

The following post comes to us from Eva Gencheva, executive compensation consultant at Frederic W. Cook & Co., Inc., and is based on the summary of a FW Cook report; the complete report is available here.

Frederic W. Cook & Co. Inc.’s 2014 Director Compensation Report indicates that non-employee director compensation increased modestly since last year, with increases ranging from 4% to 7%. Although no new design trends were observed, the streamlining of director compensation continues through (1) replacing meeting fees with higher cash retainers implying that director attendance is a prerequisite of board service, (2) denominating equity grants as a dollar value rather than as a number of shares to mitigate year-over-year valuation changes, and (3) shifting from stock options to full-value shares to strengthen the alignment of directors’ and shareholders’ interests.

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Strategic News Releases in Equity Vesting Months

The following post comes to us from Alex Edmans, Professor of Finance at London Business School; Luis Goncalves-Pinto of the Department of Finance at the National University of Singapore; Yanbo Wang of the Finance Area at INSEAD; and Moqi Xu of the Department of Finance at the London School of Economics.

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.

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ISS, Share Authorizations, and New Data Verification Process

The following post comes to us from John R. Ellerman, founding partner of Pay Governance, and is based on a Pay Governance memorandum by Mr. Ellerman.

Publicly traded companies are required by the SEC and the stock exchanges to obtain shareholder approval when such companies seek to implement a new long‐term equity plan or increase the share reserve pursuant to such plans.

Companies comply with this requirement by seeking shareholder approval through the annual proxy process. Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS), the large proxy advisory firm retained by many institutional investors for proxy voting advice, offers its services to institutional clients by evaluating such proposals. One of the tools used by ISS in developing its voting advice is a financial model referred to as the Shareholder Value Transfer (SVT) Model that attempts to assign a cost to each company’s equity plan. ISS’ proprietary SVT model contains numerous hidden values and algorithms a company cannot readily replicate. If the SVT Model results in an assigned cost that falls outside the boundaries of what is acceptable to ISS, ISS will submit a negative vote recommendation.

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ISS Spotlights Independent Chair Shareholder Proposals and Equity Compensation Plans

The following post comes to us from Catherine T. Dixon, member of the Public Company Advisory Group at Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, and is based on a Weil alert.

On October 15, 2014, Institutional Shareholder Services (“ISS”) released proposed amendments to its proxy voting policies for the 2015 proxy season. ISS is seeking comments by 6:00 p.m. EDT on October 29, 2014. [1] ISS has stated that it expects to release its final 2015 policies on or around November 7, 2014. The policies as revised will apply to meetings held on or after February 1, 2015.

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ISS Proposes Equity Plan Scorecards

Carol Bowie is Head of Americas Research at Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (ISS). This post relates to draft policy changes to the ISS Equity Plan Scorecard issued by ISS on October 15, 2014.

As issues around cost transparency and best practices in equity-based compensation have evolved in recent years, ISS proposes updates to its Equity Plans policy in order to provide for a more nuanced consideration of equity plan proposals. As an alternative to applying a series of standalone tests (focused on cost and certain egregious practices) to determine when a proposal warrants an “Against” recommendation, the proposed approach will incorporate a model that takes into account multiple factors, both positive and negative, related to plan features and historical grant practices.

Feedback from clients and corporate issuers in recent years, beginning with the 2011-2012 ISS policy cycle, indicates strong support for the proposed approach, which incorporates the following key goals:

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What Has Happened To Stock Options?

Joseph Bachelder is special counsel in the Tax, Employee Benefits & Private Clients practice group at McCarter & English, LLP. The following post is based on an article by Mr. Bachelder, with assistance from Andy Tsang, which first appeared in the New York Law Journal.

Stock options have been a part of executive pay at major U.S. corporations for approximately 100 years. They have had an important role for approximately 70 years, starting in the 1950s. They have gone through periods of extraordinary popularity (e.g., the 1990s) and have been less popular during periods when the stock markets were in the doldrums. They survived the change in accounting rules (2006) that now require them to be a charge against earnings. This post examines this history and takes a look at where options are today. [1]

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Executive Gatekeepers: Useful and Divertible Governance?

The following post comes to us from Adair Morse of the Finance Group at the University of California, Berkeley; and Wei Wang and Serena Wu, both of Queen’s School of Business, Canada.

In our paper, Executive Gatekeepers: Useful and Divertible Governance?, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we study the role of executive gatekeepers in preventing governance failures, and the counter-incentive effects created by equity compensation. Specifically, we examine the following two questions. First, do executive gatekeepers actually improve governance in the average firm? Second, does the effectiveness of gatekeepers in ensuring compliance and/or reducing corporate misconduct depend on their incentive contracts?

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Compensating for Long-Term Value Creation in U.S. Public Corporations

Joseph Bachelder is special counsel in the Tax, Employee Benefits & Private Clients practice group at McCarter & English, LLP. The following post is based on an article by Mr. Bachelder, with assistance from Andy Tsang, which first appeared in the New York Law Journal.

Three categories of performers are rewarded for value creation in U.S. public corporations. They are: (1) the executives who manage the corporations; (2) the directors who oversee the performance of these corporations; and (3) the individual asset managers and others who provide investment services to investors who own, directly or indirectly, these corporations.

The following post takes a look at the correlation between the long-term incentive compensation of these three categories of performers and long-term value creation in U.S. public corporations that is attributable to them. In fact, such correlation appears to be limited. In addition, the article will consider a definition of “long-term” value creation, the roles of these three categories of performers in creating “long-term” value and the methods of compensating these different categories of performers in their respective roles in “long-term” value creation.

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