Tag: Stock options

Alternatives to Equity Shares in a Low Stock Price Environment

Steve Pakela is a Managing Partner at Pay Governance LLC. This post is based on a Pay Governance publication by Mr. Pakela, Brian Scheiring, and Mike Grasso.

Compensation Committees face the challenge of balancing the tension in motivating their executives to create shareholder value in the current Say on Pay and economic environment. The current pullback in stock prices and the uncertain financial outlook for 2016 at many companies will make this year’s compensation decisions even more challenging. Stock prices at many companies and in many sectors are down 50% or more over the past year and, in particular, since equity awards were last granted to executives. The table below illustrates the effect of a significantly low stock price on the number of shares granted. For companies whose stock price is down 50%, the number of shares required to deliver equivalent value will be double that granted last year. For those companies whose share price is down 67% or 75%, share grants will need to be three or four times greater than the shares granted last year, respectively. This can pose a number of problems ranging from creating potential windfalls when share prices recover to previous levels to exceeding maximum share grant levels contained in a shareholder approved equity incentive plan.


Executive Pay, Share Buybacks, and Managerial Short-Termism

Ira Kay is a Managing Partner at Pay Governance LLC. This post is based on a Pay Governance memorandum by Mr. Kay, Blaine Martin, and Chris Brindisi. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, and Wei Jiang (discussed on the Forum here), The Myth that Insulating Boards Serves Long-Term Value by Lucian Bebchuk (discussed on the Forum here), and Paying for Long-Term Performance by Lucian Bebchuk and Jesse Fried (discussed on the Forum here).

The past year has seen extensive criticism of share buybacks as an example of “corporate short-termism” within the business press, academic literature, and political community. The critics of share buybacks claim that corporate managers, motivated by flawed executive incentive plans (stock options, bonus plans based on EPS, etc.) and supported by complacent boards, behave myopically and undertake value-destroying buybacks to mechanically increase their own reward. In turn, so the criticism goes, the cash used for share buybacks directly cannibalizes long-term value-enhancing strategies such as capital investment, research and development, and employment growth, thereby damaging long-term stock price performance and the value of US markets. [1]

Pay Governance has conducted unique research using a sample of S&P 500 companies over the 2008-2014 period that brings additional perspective to this debate.


Corporate Governance and Blockchains

David Yermack is Professor of Finance at the NYU Stern School of Business. This post is based on a recent article authored by Professor Yermack.

In the paper, Corporate Governance and Blockchains, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, I explore the corporate governance implications of blockchain database technology. Blockchains have captured the attention of the financial world in 2015, and they offer a new way of creating, exchanging, and tracking the ownership of financial assets on a peer-to-peer basis. Major stock exchanges are exploring the use of blockchains to register equity issued by corporations. Blockchains can also hold debt securities and financial derivatives, which can be executed autonomously as “smart contracts.” These innovations have the potential to change corporate governance as much as any event since the 1933 and 1934 securities acts in the United States.


Private Control Premium and Option Exercises

Vyacheslav Fos is Assistant Professor of Finance at Boston College. This post is based on an article by Professor Fos and Wei Jiang, Professor of Finance at Columbia Business School.

In our paper, Out-of-the-Money CEOs: Private Control Premium and Option Exercises, forthcoming in the Review of Financial Studies, we examine the effects of proxy contests on CEOs’ option exercise policies. When faced with a challenge to insider control, we find that CEOs value company shares significantly more than the market due to the potentially decisive role their attendant voting rights could play in ex ante close proxy contests. By demonstrating that the strategic exercise of vested options is a potentially effective defensive tactic, we provide further support for the role of aggressive shareholder activism in market-based corporate governance.


Executive Optimism, Option Exercise, and Share Retention

Robert Tumarkin is Senior Lecturer of Finance at the University of New South Wales. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Tumarkin and Rik Sen, Assistant Professor of Finance at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Optimism shows up as a pervasive bias in experimental and real-life settings. In the business world, executive optimism is believed to influence a wide range of corporate decisions and policies. However, determining whether an executive is optimistic is not straightforward. Corporate communications featuring key executives can be heavily rehearsed, with words carefully chosen to hide any biases. Interviews with executives may reveal the biases of journalists more than that of the executives.

In our paper, Stocking Up: Executive Optimism, Option Exercise, and Share Retention, recently featured in the Journal of Financial Economics, we propose a robust empirical measure of executive optimism. This measure, which we call Share retainer, is based on observing an executive’s stock transactions that coincide with option exercise. It is motivated by our examination of the optimal option exercise and portfolio choice problem of an optimistic executive who faces a short-sale constraint on company stock.

Insider Trading and Tender Offers

Christopher E. Austin and Victor Lewkow are partners focusing on public and private merger and acquisition transactions at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP. This post is based on a Cleary Gottlieb memorandum.

Valeant’s hostile bid for Allergan was one of 2014’s most discussed takeover battles. The situation, which ultimately resulted in the acquisition of Allergan by Actavis plc, included a novel structure that involved a “partnership” between Valeant and the investment fund Pershing Square. In particular, a Pershing Square-controlled entity having a small minority interest owned by Valeant, acquired shares and options to acquire shares constituting more than nine percent of Allergan’s common stock. Such purchases were made by Pershing Square with Valeant’s consent and with full knowledge of Valeant’s intentions to announce a proposal to acquire Allergan. Pershing Square and Valeant then filed a Schedule 13D and Pershing Square then supported Valeant’s proposed acquisition. Ultimately Pershing Square made a very substantial profit on its investment when Allergan was sold to Actavis.


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.”