I appreciate the opportunity to explain the Commission's initiatives to deal with abuses involving the backdating of options.
I am especially pleased to testify together with Chairman Mark Olson of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board.
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.
Stock option backdating has erupted into a major corporate scandal, involving potentially hundreds of publicly-held companies, and may even ensnare Apple's icon, Steve Jobs.
While the focus of the Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC") centers on improper accounting practices and disclosures, thereby violating securities laws, a major yet little explored consequence to the scandal involves potentially onerous taxes on those who received these options.
For a shorter piece with a few practical tips see Backdating – it’s illegal isn’t it?
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.It’s not unusual for parties to a contract to want the written agreement to cover a period before it’s actually signed.There are any number of contexts where this comes up — some legitimate and others not exactly aboveboard — but the logistics of negotiating and signing contracts are such that the issue is unavoidable.Under previous regulations, corporations could wait 45 days or, in some cases, over a year to report options, thus providing ample time for backdating.
Other similar practices are being reviewed by government officials as well.
Unlike the abusive corporate tax shelter ploys which often involve complex manipulation of a transaction to achieve tax results that are inconsistent with the economic reality of the deal, stock option backdating is a relatively crude device: A corporation merely changes the date that a stock option was actually granted to an earlier time when the stock price was lower.