Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Time to throw a penalty flag

First, the good part: Tuesday Morning QB does a great job of laying out the issue and demonstating one problem with boards setting pay .

From last week's TMQ which appeared on ESPN.com: Page 2 : The five-month NFL forecast:
"Much news and sports commentary focuses on the ever-larger paychecks of professional athletes. But even Peyton Manning is a day laborer compared to the modern Fortune 500 CEO....Over his last five years at the helm, he got $162 million, even as Pfizer earnings faltered. Carol Hymowitz of the Wall Street Journal reported that the head of Pfizer's "compensation committee" defended McKinnell's windfall on grounds of market forces in executive pay -- which in this context appears to mean, "CEOs at other companies are picking shareholders' pockets, too."....McKinnell's pay for his tenure atop Pfizer equates to $130,000 per work day."
and slightly later:
"...consider that executive income usually is rubber-stamped by boards of directors whose members may be engaged in self-dealings with the firm, or who have a self-interest in rising CEO pay. As Julie Creswell noted in the New York Times, "Five of the six active Home Depot board members are current or former chief executives of public corporations … CEOs benefit from one another's pay increases, because compensation packages are often based on surveys detailing what their peers are making....The board members know the more they inflate CEO pay, the more they themselves will be able to pilfer from their own shareholders"
Ignoring the use of the word 'pilfer', this is a well-presented valid point. However, Easterbrook's next point deserves a yellow penalty flag and further review:
"Recently the Business Roundtable released a study purporting to show that CEO pay rose 9.6 percent annually from 1995-2005, while stockholder returns rose 9.9 percent in the same period. So things aren't so bad, eh? The Business Roundtable said the study 'sets the record straight.' The Business Roundtable is, by its own description, 'an association of chief executive officers of leading U.S. companies.' As Gretchen Morgenson, dean of Wall Street journalists, laid it out in the New York Times, the study systematically understated the income of CEOs... 'The study counts only the value of the options and restricted stock received by executives on the dates the awards were made.'"
Uh, wait, isn't that what we should be doing?

True, we should take into account the non normality of the stock distribution (induced both by rewriting underwater options and by the now famous back dating of options) which causes the Black-Scholes formula to understate the true value of the grant, BUT the value at grant is what we should consider. We can debate whether the Black-Scholes formula is correct or not, but theoretically the value at grant (again presuming a fair grant) is what matters.

Moreover, while it is true that the Business Roundtable is made up of CEOs, that should not be grounds for dismissal. The actual study does have several valid, and overlooked points. Notably that medians should be used, that the media "sometimes summarizes the pay practices for all CEOs from only the very largest companies", and the seemingly inarguable point that "pay statistics should be referenced accurately and applied responsibly".

Like other things, I will take the bad with the good. Overall
Tuesday Morning QB is still my favorite sports article. Its author is Gregg Easterbrook who is a former Buffalo School teacher and who wrote the Progress Paradox, does a great job weaving many topics together in a funny, witty manner. That said, I guess I can no longer count TMQ as "finance reading". LOL.

No comments: