Subsequently, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) took an interest, followed by the securities plaintiffs’ bar and many corporations. The practice of options backdating, apparently widespread from 1996 through 2002, is widely believed to have been short-circuited by the enactment of Sarbanes-Oxley in 2002.Although backdating had not yet been recognized as a problem, the provisions of Sarbanes-Oxley requiring that insiders report the acquisition of securities, including options, within two days of receipt greatly hindered the ability of corporations to backdate options.In comparison, had the options been granted at the year-end price when the decision to grant to options actually might have been made, the year-end intrinsic value would have been zero.Backdating does not violate shareholder-approved option plans.The backdating problem was first highlighted by Professor Erik Lie of the University of Iowa, who published his initial study in 2004.Professor Lie concluded that the robust profitability of so many options was statistically impossible absent some artificial influence such as backdating.In 1972, a new revision (APB 25) in accounting rules resulted in the ability of any company to avoid having to report executive incomes as an expense to their shareholders if the income resulted from an issuance of “at the money” stock options.In essence, the revision enabled companies to increase executive compensation without informing their shareholders if the compensation was in the form of stock options contracts that would only become valuable if the underlying stock price were to increase at a later time.
Because the option value is higher if the exercise price is lower, executives prefer to be granted options when the stock price is at its lowest.
All stemming from the practice known as “options backdating.” Options backdating occurs when a company issues stock options on one date, but reports in its financials an earlier issue date to create a “strike” or exercise price equal to the earlier date’s lower price.
Another consequence is that the company underrepresents the real nature of an executive’s compensation, perpetuating the myth that options are performance-based incentive compensation.
The Wall Street Journal (see discussion of article below) pointed out a CEO option grant dated October 1998.
The number of shares subject to option was 250,000 and the exercise price was (the trough in the stock price graph below.) Given a year-end price of , the intrinsic value of the options at the end of the year was (-) x 250,000 = ,750,000.