Large public companies continue their shift away from stock options toward restricted stock in 2014, according the latest annual analysis by PwC of stock compensation assumptions and disclosures.
PwC produces the annual analysis to help companies benchmark their own assumptions and other data points related to stock compensation for planning and financial reporting purposes. The 2015 analysis of 2014 data examines disclosures by the top 100 large non-technology companies based on market capitalization in the S&P 500, as well as the top 100 companies on the NASDAQ technology, biotech, and pharmaceutical lists.
The analysis shows among large companies, assumptions around expected term held steady in 2014 while volatility assumptions continued a pattern of steady decline noted in recent years. Reflecting a jump in Treasury rates over the past two years, the risk-free rate of return assumed by large companies increased significantly, PwC said. Also important: the divided yield assumption slipped somewhat, “which is consistent with observed reported divided yields not having increased as much as stock price percentage increases since 2013,” the firm reports.
The pattern was similar among high-tech, where expected term remained unchanged, stock price volatility assumptions diminshed, and the assumed risk-free rate of interest increased significantly. The dividend yield assumption also decreased somewhat from assumed yields of the past several years, PwC says.
The ratio of stock options to restricted stock award for large companies fell to 1.25 to 1 in 2014 compared with 2 to 1 in 2010. In terms of value of stock options granted, that ratio has grown to just more than 3.75 to 1 in 2014 compared with just under 2 to 1 in 2010. For high-tech companies, the 2014 ratio of the number of stock options to restricted stock awards fell to 1.5 to 1 compared with 2.5 to 1 in 2010. As for value granted in high-tech companies, that ratio rose to 1.7 to 1 in 2014 compared to about 1.5 to 1 in 2010.
Stock compensation expense as a percentage of income before taxes slipped to 3.12 percent in 2014 for large companies, down from 3.43 percent in 2013 and 3.63 percent in 2012, PwC says. “The expense ratio has decreased over the past two years as there has been more scrutiny relative to executive compensation while earnings have increased,” PwC reports.
Among the high-tech companies, stock compensation expense as a percentage of income before taxes fell to 10.3 percent in 2014, down from 12.01 percent in 2013 and 13.28 in 2012. “The median stock compensation expense has grown substantially over the last five years,” PwC says. “However, the median company earnings has varied significantly over the period, reflective of the volatility of earnings volatility” of companies in that category.
Most companies continue to rely on the Black-Scholes option pricing model to establish values for stock options, with 77 percent of large companies and 95 percent of high-tech companies relying on it exclusively.