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Optimal Exercise Prices for Executive Stock Options

  • Brian J. Hall
  • Kevin J. Murphy

Although exercise prices for executive stock options can be set either below or above the grant-date market price, in practice virtually all options are granted at the money. We offer an economic rationale for this apparent puzzle, by showing that pay-to-performance incentives for risk-averse undiversified executives are typically maximized by setting exercise prices at (or near) the grant-date market price. We provide an operationally useful alternative to Black-Scholes (1973) for the purpose of both valuing executive stock options and measuring the incentives created by options. Our framework has implications not only for exercise-price policies, but also for indexed options, option repricings, exchanges of cash for stock-based compensation, and the design of bonus plans.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 7548.

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Date of creation: Feb 2000
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as American Economic Review, Vol. 90, no. 2 (May 2000): 209-214
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7548
Note: CF LS PE
Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
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  1. Robert C. Merton, 1973. "Theory of Rational Option Pricing," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 4(1), pages 141-183, Spring.
  2. Brian J. Hall & Kevin J. Murphy, 2000. "Stock Options for Undiversified Executives," NBER Working Papers 8052, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Brian J. Hall & Jeffrey B. Liebman, 1997. "Are CEOs Really Paid Like Bureaucrats?," NBER Working Papers 6213, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Black, Fischer & Scholes, Myron S, 1973. "The Pricing of Options and Corporate Liabilities," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 81(3), pages 637-54, May-June.
  5. Murphy, Kevin J., 1999. "Executive compensation," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 38, pages 2485-2563 Elsevier.
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