Risk-Taking Incentives of Executive Stock Options and the Asset Substitution Problem
21 Pages Posted: 2 Feb 2005
Various theoretical models show that managerial compensation schemes can reduce the distortionary effects of financial leverage. There is mixed evidence as to whether highly levered firms offer less stock-based compensation, a common prediction of such models. Both the theoretical and empirical research, however, have overlooked the leverage provided by executive stock options. In principle, adjusting the exercise prices of executive stock options can mitigate the risk incentive effects of financial leverage. We show that the near-universal practice of setting option exercise prices near the prevailing stock price at the date of grant effectively undoes most of the effects of financial leverage. In a large cross-sectional sample of Canadian option-granting firms, we find evidence that executives' incentives to take equity risk are negatively rather than positively related to the leverage of their employers.
JEL Classification: J33, G32, D82, G34
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation