Is backdating stock options ethical
As a result, numerous companies are conducting internal investigations to determine if, when, and how backdating occurred, and are filing amended earnings statements and tax forms to show the issuance of “in the money” options in place of the “at the money” options that were previously reported.This is not always the case, according to a ruling by federal judge William Alsup of the U. District Court for the Northern District of California.
We conclude that while executive compensation schemes (e.g., stock options) were originally intended to help remedy the agency problem by tying together the interests of the executives and shareholders, these schemes may have actually become “part of the problem,” and that the solution ultimately depends upon whether directors and executives accept that all of their actions must be based on a set of core ethical values.This is a way of repricing options to make them valuable or more valuable when the option "strike price" (the fixed price at which the owner of the option can purchase stock) is fixed to the stock price at the date the option was granted.Cases of backdating employee stock options have drawn public and media attention.One of the larger backdating scandals occurred at Brocade Communications, a data storage company.It was forced to restate earnings by recognizing a stock-based expense increase of $723 million between 19, after allegedly manipulating its stock options grants for the benefit of its senior executives.In 1994, a new tax code (162 M) provision declared all executive income levels over one million dollars to be “unreasonable” in order to increase taxes on all applicable salaries by removing them from their previous tax-deductible status.
To avoid having to pay higher taxes, many companies adopted a policy of issuing “at the money” stock options in lieu of additional income, with the idea that the executive or employee would benefit through the option by working to increase the value of the company without exceeding the one million dollar deductibility cap for executive income.
Beyond such negative controlling measures, a more positive empowering approach based on ethics may also be necessary.
What ethical measures need to be taken to address the agency problem?
In 1972, a new revision (APB 25) in accounting rules resulted in the ability of any company to avoid having to report executive incomes as an expense to their shareholders if the income resulted from an issuance of “at the money” stock options.
In essence, the revision enabled companies to increase executive compensation without informing their shareholders if the compensation was in the form of stock options contracts that would only become valuable if the underlying stock price were to increase at a later time.
Backdating of stock options is an example of an agency problem.