The John M. Olin Center

Paper Abstract

507. Lucian Bebchuk & Robert Jackson, Putting Executive Pensions on the Radar Screen, 03/2005; subsequently published as "Executive Pensions" in Journal of Corporation Law, Vol. 30, No. 14, Summer 2005, 823-855.

Abstract: Because public firms are not required to disclose the monetary value of executives’ pension plans in their executive pay disclosures, financial economists and the media alike have generally analyzed executive pay using figures that do not include the value of such pension plans. This paper presents evidence that omitting the value of pension benefits significantly undermines the accuracy of existing estimates of executive pay, its variability, and its sensitivity to performance. We estimate the value of the pension plans of all CEOs of S&P 500 firms that left their positions during 2003 and the first half of 2004. For the set of companies whose executives had a pension plan (68% of companies), our findings are as follows:

• The executive’s pension plan provided an annual payment with an average value of $1.1 million (ranging from $360,000 to $2.3 million) and had an average actuarial value of $15.1 million (ranging from $3.3 to $41.3 million).
• The pension value was on average nearly three times the total salary the executives earned during their tenure as CEO, and it was equal on average to 44% of the total compensation (including both equity and non-equity pay) the executives received during their service as CEO.
• Including pension values increased the fraction of compensation made of salary-like payments (salary during service as CEO and pension payments afterwards) from 16% to 39%, and reduced the fraction of pay that is equity-based from 57% to 42%.

We conclude that the standard omission of pension plan values by researchers and the media leads to:

(i) Significant underestimation of the magnitude of executive pay,
(ii) Severe distortion of comparisons among executive compensation packages, and
(iii) Significant overestimation of the extent to which executive pay is linked to performance and the fraction of compensation that is equity-based.

507: PDF