WSJ.com - The Perfect Payday
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March 18, 2006
The Perfect Payday
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Some CEOs reap millions by landing stock options when they are most valuable. Luck -- or something else?
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By CHARLES FORELLE and JAMES BANDLER March 18, 2006; Page A1
On a summer day in 2002, shares of Affiliated Computer Services Inc. sank to their lowest level in a year. Oddly, that was good news for Chief Executive Jeffrey Rich.
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His annual grant of stock options was dated that day, entitling him to buy stock at that price for years. Had they been dated a week later, when the stock was 27% higher, they'd have been far less rewarding. It was the same through much of Mr. Rich's tenure: In a striking pattern, all six of his stock-option grants from 1995 to 2002 were dated just before a rise in the stock price, often at the bottom of a steep drop.
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Just lucky? A Wall Street Journal analysis suggests the odds of this happening by chance are extraordinarily remote -- around one in 300 billion. The odds of winning the multistate Powerball lottery with a $1 ticket are one in 146 million.
Suspecting such patterns aren't due to chance, the Securities and Exchange Commission is examining whether some option grants carry favorable grant dates for a different reason: They were backdated. The SEC is understood to be looking at about a dozen companies' option grants with this in mind.
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DIGEST OF EARNINGS
View a chart2 of the number of options grants six executives received between 1995 and 2002 and the odds -- by a Wall Street Journal analysis -- that such a favorable pattern of grants would occur by chance.
Plus, see how the Journal analyzed3 stock-option grants.
Details of the latest corporate earnings reported for FREE. The Journal's analysis of grant dates and stock movements suggests the problem may be broader. It identified several companies with wildly improbable option-grant patterns. While this doesn't prove chicanery, it shows something very odd: Year after year, some companies' top executives received options on unusually propitious dates. (Read an
explanation of the methodology4.)
The analysis bolsters recent academic work suggesting that backdating was widespread, particularly from the start of the tech-stock boom in the 1990s through the Sarbanes-Oxley corporate reform act of 2002. If so, it was another way some executives enriched themselves during the boom at shareholders' expense. And because options grants are long-lived, some executives holding backdated grants from the late 1990s could still profit from them today.
Mr. Rich called his repeated favorable option-grant dates at ACS "blind luck." He said there was no backdating, a practice he termed "absolutely wrong." A spokeswoman for ACS, Lesley Pool, disputed the
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