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Harv Bus Rev. 2003 Mar;81(3):62-71, 140.

For the last time: stock options are an expense.

Author information

1
Boston University's School of Management, USA.

Abstract

Should stock options be recorded as an expense on a company's income statement and balance sheet, or should they remain where they are, relegated to footnotes? The extraordinary boom in share prices during the Internet bubble made critics of option expensing look like spoilsports. But since the crash, the debate has returned with a vengeance. And no wonder: The authors believe the case for expensing options is overwhelming. In this article, Nobel Iaureate Robert Merton, one of the inventors of the Black-Scholes option-pricing model; his coauthor on the classic textbook Finance, Zvi Bodie; and Robert Kaplan, creator of the Balanced Scorecard, examine and dismiss the principal claims put forward by those who continue to oppose options expensing. They demonstrate that stock-option grants do indeed have real cash-flow implications that need to be reported. They show that effective ways certainly exist to quantify those implications. They detail the distortions that relegating stock-option accounting to footnotes creates. And they show why reporting option costs should in no way hamper young companies in their efforts to provide incentives. Options are indeed a powerful incentive, the authors agree, and failing to record a transaction that creates such powerful effects is economically indefensible. Worse, it encourages companies to favor options over alternative incentive systems. It is not the proper role of accounting standards, the authors argue, to distort executive and employee compensation by subsidizing one particular form of compensation and no other. Companies should choose compensation methods according to their economic benefits--not the way they are reported.

PMID:
12632805
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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