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Principal agent problems under loss aversion: an application to executive stock options

  • David de Meza
  • David C. Webb

Executive stock options reward success but do not penalise failure. In contrast, the standard principalagent model implies that pay is normally monotonically increasing in performance. This paper shows that, under loss aversion, the use of carrots but not sticks is a feature of an optimal compensation contract. Low risk aversion and high loss aversion is particularly propitious to the use of options. Moreover, loss aversion on the part of executives explains the award of at the money options rather than discounted stock or bonus related pay. Other features of stock option grants are also explained, such as resetting or reloading with an exercise price equal to the current stock price.

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Paper provided by London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library in its series LSE Research Online Documents on Economics with number 24676.

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Length: 24 pages
Date of creation: Jan 2004
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ehl:lserod:24676
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  1. Lucian Arye Bebchuk & Jesse M. Fried, 2003. "Executive Compensation as an Agency Problem," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 17(3), pages 71-92, Summer.
  2. Bengt Holmstrom, 1979. "Moral Hazard and Observability," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 10(1), pages 74-91, Spring.
  3. Grossman, Sanford J & Hart, Oliver D, 1983. "An Analysis of the Principal-Agent Problem," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 51(1), pages 7-45, January.
  4. Bebchuk, Lucian Arye & Fried, Jesse & Walker, David I, 2001. "Executive Compensation in America: Optimal Contracting or Extraction of Rents," CEPR Discussion Papers 3112, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  5. Daniel Kahneman & Jack L. Knetsch & Richard H. Thaler, 1991. "Anomalies: The Endowment Effect, Loss Aversion, and Status Quo Bias," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 5(1), pages 193-206, Winter.
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  7. Huddart, Steven, 1994. "Employee stock options," Journal of Accounting and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(2), pages 207-231, September.
  8. Jennifer Carpenter, 1997. "The Exercise and Valuation of Executive Stock Options," New York University, Leonard N. Stern School Finance Department Working Paper Seires 97-10, New York University, Leonard N. Stern School of Business-.
  9. Marianne Bertrand & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2000. "Agents with and without Principals," Working Papers 809, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
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  12. repec:oup:qjecon:v:114:y:1999:i:2:p:601-627 is not listed on IDEAS
  13. Brian J. Hall & Kevin J. Murphy, 2003. "The Trouble with Stock Options," NBER Working Papers 9784, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Jensen, M.C. & Murphy, K.J., 1988. "Performance Pay And Top Management Incentives," Papers 88-04, Rochester, Business - Managerial Economics Research Center.
  15. Jennifer N. Carpenter, 2000. "Does Option Compensation Increase Managerial Risk Appetite?," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 55(5), pages 2311-2331, October.
  16. Kachelmeier, Steven J & Shehata, Mohamed, 1992. "Examining Risk Preferences under High Monetary Incentives: Experimental Evidence from the People's Republic of China," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(5), pages 1120-41, December.
  17. Agrawal, Anup & Mandelker, Gershon N, 1987. " Managerial Incentives and Corporate Investment and Financing Decision s," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 42(4), pages 823-37, September.
  18. Philip H. Dybvig & Mark Loewenstein, 2003. "Employee Reload Options: Pricing, Hedging, and Optimal Exercise," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 16(1), pages 145-171.
  19. Amos Tversky & Daniel Kahneman, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Levine's Working Paper Archive 7656, David K. Levine.
  20. Bebchuk, Lucian A. & Fried, Jesse M., 2003. "Executive Compensation as an Agency Problem," Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics, Working Paper Series qt81q3136r, Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics.
  21. Yermack, David, 1995. "Do corporations award CEO stock options effectively?," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 39(2-3), pages 237-269.
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  23. Huddart, Steven & Lang, Mark, 1996. "Employee stock option exercises an empirical analysis," Journal of Accounting and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(1), pages 5-43, February.
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