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Encyclopedia > Options backdating
 This article documents a current event.
Information may change rapidly as the event progresses.

Options backdating is the process of granting an employee stock option that is dated prior to the date that the company granted that option. When done intentionally, the practice is equivalent to giving cash to the grantee at the expense of shareholders. Whether it is illegal will depend on the particluar facts and circumstances because you can steal directly or through obfuscation. Image File history File links Current_event_marker. ... An Employee stock option is a call option on a companys own stock issued as a form of non-cash compensation. ...


Abuses reported in the media recently include cases like those of Steve Jobs with Pixar when executives would looked back over several months and chose the date on which they wanted the right to buy shares of the company they were being paid to manage; and they chose the date when the price was lowest. This results in a value of the option most favorable to the employee receiving it. This practice reduces the risk of share price going down for the year. Some backdating situations are less manipulative and intentional, such as company granting stock options at exercise price equal to the company's lowest stock price during the prior month to smooth out volatility in its stock price, or just a delay between when the grant is approved and when it is communicated to employees and priced.


In 1992 the SEC had imposed a rule requiring companies to report executive stock options in detail. If not for that rule, executives could still be hiding backdating options from shareholders. Even after the rule, some executives got away with it for years because they could legally delay reporting option grants for so long that it was virtually impossible to figure out whether any individual grant had been backdated. SEC is a TLA which can refer to: In general context, an abbreviation for second. ...


Since the Enron scandal, Congress enacted Section 409A of the Internal Revenue Code to deal with such non-qualified deferred compensation. Backdated stock options would be considered discounted stock options triggering additional taxes and penalties at vesting or exercise. Most of the legal issues arising from backdating are a result of the grantor falsifying documents submitted to investors and regulators in an effort to conceal the backdating. The practice of backdating itself is not illegal, as it is granting of discounted stock options. What is illegal is the improper disclosures, both in SEC filings and financial records. Enron Corporation Enron Corporation is an energy trading and communications company based in Houston, Texas that employed around 21,000 people in mid-2001 (before bankruptcy). ... The Internal Revenue Code (or IRC) (more formally, the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended) is the main body of domestic statutory tax law of the United States organized topically, including laws covering the income tax (see Income tax in the United States), payroll taxes, gift taxes, estate taxes...

Contents

Research History

David Yermack, a New York University finance professor, in 1995 studied data that companies were obligated to publish, under a 1992 SEC decree, the exact dates of options grants in proxy statements. Previously, dates were disclosed within often ignored filings. He found a pattern that the stock prices often declined in value just prior to the options grant and rose afterwards. He theorized these were timed to precede good news and follow bad news. In 1997, his findings were published in the Journal of Finance. New York University (NYU) is a major research university in New York City. ... 1995 (MCMXCV) was a common year starting on Sunday of the Gregorian calendar. ... 1992 (MCMXCII) was a leap year starting on Wednesday. ... SEC is a TLA which can refer to: In general context, an abbreviation for second. ...


Finance professors David Aboody of UCLA and Ron Kasznik of Stanford followed with a study of companies that grant options at the same time every year and found a similar patter, indicating timing of news. Finance studies and addresses the ways in which individuals, businesses, and organizations raise, allocate, and use monetary resources over time, taking into account the risks entailed in their projects. ... The meaning of the word professor (Latin: one who claims publicly to be an expert) varies. ... Binomial name Ucla xenogrammus Holleman, 1993 The largemouth triplefin, Ucla xenogrammus, is a fish of the family Tripterygiidae and only member of the genus Ucla, found in the Pacific Ocean from Viet Nam, the Philippines, Palau and the Caroline Islands to Papua New Guinea, Australia (including Christmas Island), and the... Stanford may refer: Stanford University Places: Stanford, Kentucky Stanford, California, home of Stanford University Stanford Shopping Center Stanford, New York, town in Dutchess County. ...


Finance professor Erik Lie of the University of Iowa in 2004 noted that many options grants were timed to exploit marketwide price depressions that nobody, including insiders, could predict leading to the conclusion that at least some of the grants must have been retroactive. Finance studies and addresses the ways in which individuals, businesses, and organizations raise, allocate, and use monetary resources over time, taking into account the risks entailed in their projects. ... The meaning of the word professor (Latin: one who claims publicly to be an expert) varies. ... Erik Lie is a finance professor atthe University of Iowa who published a report about options backdating that led to many investigations by the SEC into the potentially illegal practice. ... The University of Iowa, or Iowa for short, is a major national research university located on a 1,900-acre campus in Iowa City, Iowa, USA, on the Iowa River in East Central Iowa. ...


Terminology

bullet dodging delaying an options grant until just after bad news


spring-loading timing an options grant to precede good news


symmetric spring-loading where members of the board who approve the grant are aware of the forthcoming good news


asymmetric spring-loading where members of the board who approve the grant are unaware of the forthcoming good news


Overview of the Options Backdating Scandal

Academic researchers had long been aware of the pattern, exhibited by some companies, of share prices rising dramatically in the days following grants of stock options to senior management. However, in late 2005 and early 2006, the issue of stock options backdating gained a wider audience. Numerous financial analysts replicated and expanded upon the prior academic research, developing lists of companies whose stock price performance immediately after options grants to senior management (the purported dates of which can be ascertained by inspecting a company's Form 4 filings, generally available online at the SEC's website) was suspicious.


Backdating stock options is not necessarily illegal. Backdating becomes illegal when a company's shareholders are misled as a result of the practice. For instance, public companies generally grant stock options in accordance with a formal stock option plan approved by shareholders at an annual meeting. Many companies' stock option plans provide that stock options must be granted at an exercise price no lower than fair market value on the date of the option grant. If a company grants options on June 1 (when the stock price is $100), but backdates the options to May 15 (when the price was $80) in order to make the option grants more favorable to the grantees, the fact remains that the grants were actually made on June 1, and if the exercise price of the granted options is $80, not $100, it is below fair market value. Thus, backdating can be misleading to shareholders in the sense that it results in option grants that are more favorable than the shareholders approved in adopting the stock option plan.


The other major way that backdating can be misleading to investors relates to the method by which the company accounts for the options. Until very recently, a company that granted stock options to executives at fair market value did not have to recognize the cost of the options is a compensation expense. However, if the company granted options with an exercise price below fair market value, there would be a compensation expense that had to be recognized under applicable accounting rules. If a company backdated its stock options, but failed to recognize a compensation expense, then the company's accounting may not be correct, and its quarterly and annual financial reports to investors may be misleading.


Although many companies have been identified as having problems with backdating, the severity of the problem, and the consequences, fall along a broad spectrum. At one extreme, where it is clear that top management was guilty of conscious wrongdoing in backdating, attempted to conceal the backdating by falsifying documents, and where the backdating resulted in a substantial overstatement of the company's profitability, SEC enforcement actions and even criminal charges have resulted. Toward the other extreme, where the backdating was a result of overly informal internal procedures or even just delays in finalizing the paperwork documenting options grants, not intentional wrongdoing, there is likely to be no formal sanction -- although the company may have to restate its financial statements to bring its accounting into compliance with applicable accounting rules.


With respect to the more serious cases of backdating, it is likely that most of the criminal actions that the government intends to bring will be brought in 2007. There is a five-year statute of limitations for securities fraud, and under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, option grants to senior management must be reported within two days of the grant date. This all but eliminated the opportunity for senior management to engage any meaningful options backdating. Therefore, any criminal prosecution is likely to be based on option grants made Sarbanes-Oxley took effect, and the deadline facing the government for bringing those prosecutions is approaching.


As of 17 November 2006, backdating has been identified at more than 130 companies, and led to the firing or resignation of more than 50 top executives and directors of those companies. Notable companies embroiled in the scandal include Broadcom Corp., UnitedHealth Group and Comverse Technology. 17 November is also the name of a Marxist group in Greece, coinciding with the anniversary of the Athens Polytechnic uprising. ... For the Manfred Mann album, see 2006 (album). ... Broadcom Corporation is a leading American supplier of integrated circuits (ICs) for broadband communications. ... UnitedHealth Group Incorporated (UnitedHealth Group) is a managed health care company. ... Comverse Technology, Inc. ...


Some of the more prominent corporate figures involved in the controversy currently are Steve Jobs and Michael Dell. Both Apple and Dell are currently under SEC investigation. Steven Paul Jobs (born February 24, 1955) is the co-founder and CEO of Apple and was the CEO of Pixar until its acquisition by Disney. ... Michael Dell, the founder CEO and chairman of Dell, Inc. ... Apple Inc. ... This article is about the corporation Dell, Inc. ...


On Friday, February 23, 2007, the Bloomberg News reported that KB Homes are now under criminal investigation.


United States income tax issues

According to the February 9, 2007 WSJ (Page A3) article IRS Urges Companies to Pay Taxes Owed By Workers Unaware of Backdated Options the government will go after taxpayers on such options but will pursue the company for rank and file employees.


Deferral of recognition into employee's gross income

According to Section 83 of the Code, employees who receive property from the employer must recognize taxable income in the year in which that property vests (is free from restrictions and other risks of forfeiture). Stock options granted which exercise price below the then current fair market value has intrinsic value equal to the difference betwen the market price and the strike price. Such backdating may be construed as illegally avoiding income recognition because falsely under-reporting the market price of such stocks makes them appear to have no value in excess of the strike price at the time the option is granted. The Internal Revenue Code (or IRC) (more formally, the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended) is the main body of domestic statutory tax law of the United States organized topically, including laws covering the income tax (see Income tax in the United States), payroll taxes, gift taxes, estate taxes... This article contrasts tax evasion, tax avoidance, tax resistance and tax mitigation. ...


Denial of deduction under Section 162(m) of the Tax Code

The 1993 Clinton tax increase amended the Code to include Section 162(m) which presumptively makes compensation in excess of one million dollars unreasonable for public companies. As the Tax Code only allows a corporate deduction for reasonable compensation to employees, Section 162(m) needed an exception for performance based compensation. According to the September 5, 2006 Joint Committee on Taxation background briefing if the CEO or other top executive gets stock option grants with exercise price equal to market price, then the options granted would be presumed to be reasonable because they would be performance based. However, if the exercise price is below the market price so that they are in the money, then the compensation will not be performance based because the option would have intrinsic value immediately. (See page 5 of the background briefing). In finance, moneyness is a measure of the degree to which a derivative security is likely to have positive monetary value at its expiration. ...


As an economic and practical matter, backdating and cherry-picking dates with the lowest market price of the underlying stock may be evidence that the options granted were not reasonable compensation because it would not be performance based and therefore corporate deductions taken would be denied.


References

  • Corporate Governance Search - Vertical Search Engine for Research on Corporate Governance and Options Backdating
  • Options Backdating: A Primer, NERA Economic Consulting, retrieved 2006-11-05.
  • Why it's a big deal, retrieved 01-10-2007
  • Christopher Cox , Options Backdating: Can I.T. Help?, baselinemag.com, 2006-06-15, retrieved 2006-07-24.
  • Former SEC Chairman Pitt Flays Options Back-Dating, pro2net.com, 2006-06-21, retrieved 2006-07-24.
  • Fox, Justin. Self-Deal? CEOs? Nahhh ... Fortune vol 154 no 11, pp 95-96, retrieved 2007-01-23
  • Back-Dating Stock Options, npr.org, 2006-06-20, retrieved 2006-07-24.
  • Investigations Expanded into Back-Dating Stock Options, npr.org, 2006-06-01, retrieved 2006-07-24.
  • Background on the Options Backdating Scandal, ISS, retrieved 2006-07-24.
  • Lie, Erik (May 2005). "On the Timing of CEO Stock Option Awards" (pdf). Management Science 51 (5): 802-812. DOI:10.1287/mnsc.1050.0365. Retrieved on 2006-11-05. 
  • CNBC's Closing Bell interview with CFRA's Marc Siegel May 19, 2006, retrieved 2006-12-27
  • Ex-Comverse lawyer settles with SEC for $3 million, retrieved 2007-01-10
  • myStockOptions.com

 
 

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