Does Golden Pay for the CEOs Sink Stocks?

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Published in The Wall Street Journal, December 26, 2009 by Jason Zweig 

Why does it seem that it’s always Christmas in corporate boardrooms? And how can investors tell whether those glittering pay packages are worth the cost?
The answer sounds obvious: Pay the boss more for good results now, and you should get even better results later. But the evidence for that is surprisingly weak, and two new studies even suggest that when chief executive officers get paid more, shareholders end up earning less.
The first study, led by corporate-governance expert Lucian Bebchuk of Harvard Law School, looked at more than 2,000 companies to see what share of the total compensation earned by the top five executives went to the CEO. The researchers call this number—which averages about 35%—the “CEO pay slice.”
It turns out that the bigger the CEO’s slice of the pie, the lower the company’s future profitability and market valuation. “These CEOs,” says Prof. Bebchuk, “seem to be trying to grab more than they should.”
Finance professor Raghavendra Rau of Purdue University and two colleagues looked at CEO pay and stock returns for roughly 1,500 companies per year from 1994 through 2006. They found that the 10% of firms with the highest-paid CEOs produce stock returns that lag their industry peers by more than 12 percentage points, cumulatively, over the next five years.

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