New CEO pay lists are misleading

The amount of money that CEOs at big U.S. companies make has been the subject of controversy for years. As proxies come out, the numbers for base salaries, bonuses, and stock options get added up and then put on endless lists of who made what.

As the market has fallen, stock options at most companies have lost a lot of their value, but cash compensation has remained high. Shareholders have pushed for "pay-for-performance" clauses when boards set management payouts, but it has not worked. The proposals are almost always voted down.

According toThe Wall Street Journal, "The median salaries and bonuses for the chief executives of 200 big U.S. companies fell 8.5 percent to $2.24 million." Given how much stock prices and earnings have fallen, that does not seem like very much of a cut.

The greatest shock in the paper's survey is that Sanjay Jha, the co-CEO of Motorola (MOT), was the most highly paid person on the list. He made $104 million, but much of that was based on stock options that now have little value. Even so, his company has posted an awful performance, though some of his comp was used to lure him from his former job.

While these lists are sensationalistic and while CEOs still make more money than they should, the conclusions are unfair. The value of stock options are still calculated as of the day of their grants. With so many of those options now worthless, so are lists from sources like TheWall Street Journal.

If such lists are going to have value, they have to drop the theoretical approach and looks at what CEOs are actually being paid.

Douglas A. McIntyre is an editor at 24/7 Wall St.

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