Sink or Swim? Firms' Responses to Underwater Options
Posted: 8 Oct 2003
We examine changes in executive compensation that firms make in response to underwater options. Using a sample of firms with underwater options in 2000, we estimate that 81% of firms to take action to respond to underwater options. We examine explanations for firms' responses. Opponents argue that it rewards poor performance and transfers wealth unjustifiably from shareholders to executives. We find some support for this argument in that firms with weaker governance structures are more likely to reprice underwater options. Alternatively, firms that respond claim they do so to restore incentives, retain executives, and insulate executives from market-wide or industry-wide factors beyond their control. Our results find evidence in support of these arguments in that restoring incentives and retaining executives seems to be the primary drivers of firms' responses.
Keywords: Executive compensation, stock options
JEL Classification: J33, M41
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation