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On the Accounting Valuation of Employee Stock Options

Listed author(s):
  • Mark Rubinstein.
Registered author(s):

    In its exposure draft, "Accounting for Stock-based Compensation," FASB proposes that either the Black-Scholes or binomial option pricing model be used to expense employee stock options, and that the value of these options be measured on their grant date with typically modest ex-post adjustment. This brings the accounting profession squarely up against the Scylla of imposing too narrow a set of rules that will force many firms to misstate considerably the value of their stock options and the Charybdis of granting considerable latitude which will increase non-comparability across financial statements of otherwise similar firms. This, of course, is a common tradeoff afflicting many rules for external financial accounting. It is not my intention to take a position on this issue, but merely to point out the inherent dangers in navigating between these twin perils. To examine this question, this paper develops a binomial valuation model which simultaneously takes into consideration the most significant differences between standard call options and employee stock options: longer maturity, delayed vesting, forfeiture, non-transferability, dilution, and taxes. The final model requires 16 input variables: stock price on grant date, stock volatility, stock payout rate, stock expected return, interest rate, option striking price, option years-to-expiration, option years-to-vesting, expected employee forfeiture rate, minimum and maximum forfeiture rate multipliers, employee's non-option wealth per owned option, employee's risk aversion, employee's tax rate, percentage dilution, and number of steps in the binomial tree. Many of these variables are difficult to estimate. Indeed, a firm seeking to overvalue its option might report values almost double those reported by an otherwise similar firm seeking to undervalue its options. The alternatives of expensing minimum (zero-volatility) option values, whether at grant or vesting date, can easily be gamed by slightly redefining employee stock option contracts, and therefore would not accomplish FASB's goals. As an alternative, FASB could give more careful consideration to exercise date accounting, under which an expense is recognized at the time of exercise equal to the exercise value of the option. This would achieve the long sought external accounting goal of realizing stock options as compensation, while at the same time minimizing the potential for the revised accounting rules to motivate gaming behavior or non-comparable statements.

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    Paper provided by University of California at Berkeley in its series Research Program in Finance Working Papers with number RPF-241.

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    Date of creation: 01 Dec 1994
    Handle: RePEc:ucb:calbrf:rpf-241
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