Back dating of stock option
ESOs are usually granted at-the-money, i.e., the exercise price of the options is set to equal the market price of the underlying stock on the grant date.
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.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.Thus, an artificially low exercise price might alter the tax payments for both the company and the option recipient.Further, at-the-money options are considered performance-based compensation, and can therefore be deducted for tax purposes even if executives are paid in excess of million (see Section 162(m) of the Internal Revenue Code).
However, if the options were effectively in-the-money on the decision date, they might not qualify for such tax deductions.