Back dating of stock option
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.Backdating allows executives to choose a past date when the market price was particularly low, thereby inflating the value of the options.An example illustrates the potential benefit of backdating to the recipient.The Wall Street Journal (see discussion of article below) pointed out a CEO option grant dated October 1998.
This would have likely have been ineffective in preventing options backdating at Apple.Backdating does not violate shareholder-approved option plans.Most shareholder approved option plans prohibit in-the-money option grants (and thus, backdating to create in-the-money grants) by requiring that option exercise prices must be no less than the fair market value of the stock on the date when the grant decision is made. For example, because backdating is used to choose a grant date with a lower price than on the actual decision date, the options are effectively in-the-money on the decision date, and the reported earnings should be reduced for the fiscal year of the grant.(Under APB 25, the accounting rule that was in effect until 2005, firms did not have to expense options at all unless they were in-the-money.However, under the new FAS 123R, the expense is based on the fair market value on the grant date, such that even at-the-money options have to be expensed.) Because backdating is typically not reflected properly in earnings, some companies that have recently admitted to backdating of options have restated earnings for past years. The exercise price affects the basis that is used for estimating both the company's compensation expense for tax purposes and any capital gain for the option recipient.