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The Other Side of the Trade-off: The Impact of Risk on Executive Compensation

  • Rajesh K. Aggarwal
  • Andrew A. Samwick

The principal-agent model of executive compensation is of central importance to the modern theory of the firm and corporate governance, yet the existing empirical evidence supporting it is quite weak. The key predication of the model is that the executive's pay-performance sensitivity is decreasing in the variance of the firm's performance. We demonstrate strong empirical confirmation of this prediction using a comprehensive sample of executives at large corporations. In general, the pay-performance sensitivity for executives at firms with the least volatile stock prices is an order of magnitude greater than the pay-performance sensitivity for executives at firms with the most volatile stock prices. This result holds for both chief executive officers and for other highly compensated executives. We further show that estimates of the pay-performance sensitivity that do not explicitly account for the effect of the variance of firm performance are biased toward zero. We also test for relative performance evaluation of executives against the performance of other firms. We find little support for the relative performance evaluation model. Our findings suggest that executive compensation contracts incorporate the benefits of risk-sharing but do not incorporate the potential informational advantages of relative performance evaluation.

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Article provided by University of Chicago Press in its journal Journal of Political Economy.

Volume (Year): 107 (1999)
Issue (Month): 1 (February)
Pages: 65-105

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Handle: RePEc:ucp:jpolec:v:107:y:1999:i:1:p:65-105
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/JPE/

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  1. Robert Gibbons & Kevin Murphy, 1989. "Relative Performance Evaluation for Chief Executive Officers," Working Papers 628, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  2. HOLMSTROM, Bengt, . "Moral hazard and observability," CORE Discussion Papers RP -379, Université catholique de Louvain, Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE).
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  4. Shleifer, Andrei & Vishny, Robert W, 1997. " A Survey of Corporate Governance," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 52(2), pages 737-83, June.
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  7. Brian J. Hall & Jeffrey B. Liebman, 1997. "Are CEOs Paid Like Bureaucrats?," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1789, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  8. Holmstrom, Bengt & Milgrom, Paul, 1987. "Aggregation and Linearity in the Provision of Intertemporal Incentives," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 55(2), pages 303-28, March.
  9. Haubrich, Joseph G, 1994. "Risk Aversion, Performance Pay, and the Principal-Agent Problem," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(2), pages 258-76, April.
  10. Koenker, Roger & Bassett, Gilbert, Jr, 1982. "Robust Tests for Heteroscedasticity Based on Regression Quantiles," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 50(1), pages 43-61, January.
  11. Barro, Jason R. & Barro, Robert J., 1990. "Pay, Performance, and Turnover of Bank CEOs," Scholarly Articles 3451300, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  12. Garen, John E, 1994. "Executive Compensation and Principal-Agent Theory," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(6), pages 1175-99, December.
  13. Moshe Buchinsky, 1998. "Recent Advances in Quantile Regression Models: A Practical Guideline for Empirical Research," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 33(1), pages 88-126.
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