Optimal Exercise Prices for Executive Stock Options
16 Pages Posted: 27 Jul 2000 Last revised: 16 Oct 2010
Date Written: February 2000
Although exercise prices for executive stock options can be set either below or above the grant-date market price, in practice virtually all options are granted at the money. We offer an economic rationale for this apparent puzzle, by showing that pay-to-performance incentives for risk-averse undiversified executives are typically maximized by setting exercise prices at (or near) the grant-date market price. We provide an operationally useful alternative to Black-Scholes (1973) for the purpose of both valuing executive stock options and measuring the incentives created by options. Our framework has implications not only for exercise-price policies, but also for indexed options, option repricings, exchanges of cash for stock-based compensation, and the design of bonus plans.
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