Tag: Stock options

Delaware Court Awards Damages to Option Holders

Jason M. Halper is a partner in the Securities Litigation & Regulatory Enforcement Practice Group at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP. This post is based on an Orrick publication by Mr. Halper and Peter J. Rooney. This post is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

On July 28, 2015, the Delaware Court of Chancery issued a post-trial opinion in which it criticized in particularly strong terms the analysis performed by a financial firm that was retained to value companies that were being sold to a third party or spun off to stockholders (the “valuation firm”). See Fox v. CDX Holdings Inc., C.A. No. 8031-VCL (Del Ch. July 28, 2015)CDX is just the latest decision in which the Chancery Court has awarded damages and/or ordered injunctive relief based in part on a financial firm’s failure to discharge its role appropriately. Calling the valuation firm’s work “a new low,” Vice Chancellor Laster’s opinion is another chapter in this cautionary tale that lays bare how financial firms can be exposed not only to potential monetary liability but, as importantly, significant reputational harm from flawed sell side work on M&A transactions.


Managerial Ownership and Earnings Management

Phil Quinn is Assistant Professor of Accounting at the University of Washington. This post is based on an article by Mr. Quinn.

In my paper, Managerial Ownership and Earnings Management: Evidence from Stock Ownership Plans, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, I exploit the initiation of ownership requirements to examine the relation between managerial ownership and earnings management. Prior work provides mixed evidence on the relation between managerial ownership and earnings management. Many studies provide evidence of a positive relation between managerial ownership and earnings management, which is consistent with an increase in stock price increasing the portfolio value of high-ownership managers more than the value of low-ownership managers (i.e., the “reward effect”) (Cheng and Warfield 2005; Bergstresser and Philippon 2006; Baber, Kang, Liang, and Zhu 2009; Johnson, Ryan, and Tian 2009). Other work notes that earnings management is a risky activity and posits that risk-adverse managers will be less likely to engage in risky activities as their ownership increases. Consistent with the “risk effect” increasing with managerial ownership, several studies find no relation or a negative relation between earnings management and managerial ownership (Erickson, Hanlon, and Maydew 2006; Hribar and Nichols 2007; Armstrong, Jagolinzer, and Larcker 2010). Armstrong, Larcker, Ormazabal, and Taylor (2013) note that the theoretical reward effect and risk effect are countervailing forces, and the countervailing forces may explain why prior empirical work finds mixed evidence on the relation between ownership and earnings management. By examining stock ownership plans, a governance reform that limits the reward effect, I seek to inform the discussion on the relation between ownership and earnings management.


CEO Stock Ownership Policies—Rhetoric and Reality

The following post comes to us from Nitzan Shilon at Peking University School of Transnational Law. This post is based on his recent study, CEO Stock Ownership Policies—Rhetoric and Reality. He conducted this study while being a Fellow in Law and Economics and an S.J.D. (Doctor of Laws) candidate at Harvard Law School.

I recently published a study titled CEO Stock Ownership Policies—Rhetoric and Reality. This study is the first academic endeavor to analyze the efficacy and transparency of stock ownership policies (SOPs) in U.S. public firms. SOPs generally require managers to hold some of their firms’ stock for the long term. Although firms universally adopted these policies and promoted them as a key element in their mitigation of risk, no one has shown that such policies actually achieve the important goals that they have been established to achieve. My study shows that while SOPs are important in theory, they are paper tigers in practice. It also shows that firms camouflage the weakness of these policies in their public filings. Therefore I put forward a proposal to make SOPs transparent as a first step in improving their content. My findings have important implications for the ongoing policy debates on corporate governance and executive compensation.


Does Your Executive Pay Plan Create “Drive, Discipline and Speed”?

The following post comes to us from Pay Governance LLC and is based on a Pay Governance memorandum by John D. England and Jeffrey W. Joyce.

At a recent Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) conference, two private equity firms’ operating partners observed that executive compensation programs in each and every company in which they invested had to be completely overhauled. “Of course,” quipped one CHRO, “all you need to do is grant large, upfront stock options as a one-time long-term incentive, and you don’t worry about pay after that.” After the chuckling subsided, the operating partners politely demurred. One replied “Actually, we worry every day about whether our portfolio company pay programs create drive, discipline, and speed, for without these three motivations, our investments won’t create value for our investors. The other added, “You need to worry more about these motivations, too.”


Trends in Board of Director Compensation

The following post comes to us from Pay Governance LLC and is based on a Pay Governance memorandum by Steve Pakela and John Sinkular.

Over the past 15 years, the methods of compensating non-employee directors have changed in tandem with the risk and workload of being a director. The catalyst for change over this time period includes a variety of regulatory requirements, such as Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd Frank, enhanced proxy disclosure rules and increases in shareholder activism. By way of examples, Audit Committees meet more frequently and must have at least one qualified financial expert, and Compensation Committees have greater workloads. Today’s corporate director needs to dedicate more time to the job, assume greater risk, and meet higher qualification standards. Arguably, these issues, and newer issues such as director tenure limits, have reduced the pool of available individuals who are willing to serve as a director. As with all things impacted by supply and demand, the total compensation provided to directors has increased. Over the past decade, total director remuneration has grown by approximately 5% per year on average.

With the changing role and the increase in total compensation, the design of director compensation programs has changed over time as well. The basic construct of the director compensation arrangement continues to be a mix of cash and equity. However, the means of delivering these two elements has changed rather dramatically over the past decade. Below we review key elements of director compensation programs.


IRS Releases Final Regulations Under Section 162(m)

The following post comes to us from Edmond T. FitzGerald, partner and head of the Executive Compensation Group at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, and is based on a Davis Polk client memorandum by Kyoko Takahashi Lin.

On March 31, 2015, the Internal Revenue Service published final regulations under Section 162(m) of the Internal Revenue Code. As it did when it proposed these regulations in 2011, the IRS has indicated that these regulations are not intended to reflect substantive changes to existing requirements of Section 162(m), but rather to clarify them.

The final regulations clarify two requirements for exceptions from the Section 162(m) tax deductibility limit:

  • the need for per-employee limits on equity awards in order to qualify stock options and stock appreciation rights (SARs) for the “qualified performance-based compensation” exception; and
  • the treatment of restricted stock units (RSUs) or phantom stock arrangements under the transition period exception for certain compensation “paid” by newly public companies.


More Corporate Actions, More Insider Trading?

The following post comes to us from Patrick Augustin of the Finance Area at McGill University; Jianfeng Hu of the Finance Area at Singapore Management University; and Menachem Brenner and Marti Subrahmanyam, both of the Finance Department at New York University.

According to Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney of the Southern District of New York, insider trading is “rampant” in U.S. securities markets, and his actions in the past few years indicate concrete action by his office to combat such activity. In a similar vein, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has stepped up efforts to chase down high profile insider traders, and has made it its key priority in pursuing errant behavior. Academic studies, including our own, have previously documented empirical evidence of informed trading ahead of major corporate events such as earnings announcements, mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and corporate bankruptcies.


Suspect CEOs, Unethical Culture, and Corporate Misbehavior

The following post comes to us from Lee Biggerstaff of the Department of Finance at Miami University, David Cicero of the Department of Finance at the University of Alabama, and Andy Puckett of the Department of Finance at the University of Tennessee.

Trust is part of the foundation of public markets. Scandals at firms such as Enron and HealthSouth fractured this foundation and motivated market participants to ask why executives and other employees at these firms misled investors. Some regulators and experts conjecture that the roots of these scandals can be traced to the actions and attitudes of those at the very top of corporate leadership. In the words of Linda Chatman Thomsen (Director, Division of Enforcement, Securities and Exchange Commission) “Corporate character matters—and employees take their cues from the top. In our experience, the character of the CEO and other top officers is generally reflected in the character of the entire company.” In our paper, Suspect CEOs, Unethical Culture, and Corporate Misbehavior, forthcoming in the Journal of Financial Economics, we provide evidence consistent with this perspective by demonstrating an empirical link between CEOs’ revealed character and the misbehaviors of the firms they manage.


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.


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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