Top U.S. CEOs reaped billions from stock gains in recent years, Reuters analysis shows

Wed Mar 25, 2015 2:53am EDT
 
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By Tim McLaughlin and Ross Kerber

BOSTON (Reuters) - CEOs at large U.S. companies collectively realized at least $6 billion more in compensation than initially estimated in annual disclosures in the five years after the financial crisis first hit, according to a Reuters analysis. The reason for the windfall: the soaring value of their stock awards.

About 300 CEOs who served throughout the 2009-2013 period at S&P 500 companies together realized about $22 billion in compensation in the form of pay, bonuses and share and option grants, or an average of $73 million each, figures provided by executive compensation data firm Equilar show.

That compares to about $16 billion initially reported in annual company summary compensation tables, which include estimates for the value of stock grants based on the price of shares at the time of awards.

The comparison does not include pensions and perks such as country club memberships and use of corporate jets for private use. The study also excludes rewards reaped by other top executives, such as chief financial officers and chief operating officers, and compensation for CEOs who did not serve the full five years.

Further gains in share prices in 2014 and so far this year will only have increased the gap between the annual disclosures and the amount actually derived from the awards, with the full picture for last year only becoming clear over the next couple of months. The S&P 500’s total return, including dividends, was 166 percent from the end of 2008 through Monday of this week, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices.

The impact of the stock market gains on executive pay illustrated in the study will strengthen concerns about how much of an impact the U.S. Federal Reserve’s easy money policies have had on income inequality. Critics say that by raising the value of assets, such as stocks, the Fed's stimulus has helped those who are already wealthy even as median household income declined 4 percent between 2009-2013.

The bull market also has some investors re-evaluating how they judge compensation plans. In some cases, they say CEOs may be benefiting greatly from a rising tide even when their performance might be weak.

”You’re seeing overpayment, or outsized payments, for what is market performance or mediocre performance,” said Aeisha Mastagni, an investment officer for the $191 billion California State Teachers’ Retirement System, who helps oversee its votes on executive pay proposals at company annual meetings. “Directors can’t ignore the issue of pay inequality or rising executive pay.”   Continued...

 
Dr. John Martin, C.E.O. of Gilead, speaks at the Reuters Health Summit in New York, November 19, 2008.     REUTERS/Brendan McDermid