Lower Salaries and No Options? On the Optimal Structure of Executive Pay
50 Pages Posted: 7 Aug 2005 Last revised: 10 Aug 2009
We estimate a standard principal agent model with constant relative risk aversion and lognormal stock prices for a sample of 598 US CEOs. The model is widely used in the compensation literature, but it predicts that almost all of the CEOs in our sample should hold no stock options. Instead, CEOs should have lower base salaries and receive additional shares in their companies. For a typical value of relative risk aversion, almost half of the CEOs in our sample would be required to purchase additional stock in their companies from their private savings. The model predicts contracts that would reduce average compensation costs by 20% while providing the same incentives and the same utility to CEOs. We investigate a number of extensions and modifications of the standard model, but find none of them to be satisfactory. We conclude that the standard principal agent model typically used in the literature cannot rationalize observed contracts. One reason may be that executive pay contracts are suboptimal.
Keywords: Executive compensation, stock options
JEL Classification: G30, M52
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation