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For Options, Timing Is Everything

Since 2005, 11 CEOs and 24 other corporate officials lost their jobs because of questionable maneuvers.

Michael Moran is a portfolio strategist at Goldman Sachs. He has studied the stocks of companies with acknowledged investigations into the backdating of stock options, a ploy that can boost executives' pay by making it appear options were granted when the company's stock traded at a lower price.

KIPLINGER'S: Why are backdated options still in the news after all these months?

MORAN: Because there's not a company in this country that issued options over the past decade that's not looking at this. About 150 companies have commented publicly on the matter. Some investigations are waiting to be resolved, and there are other companies we're going to hear about. Investors need to keep it on their radar screens.

How come? You'll see some companies having to restate their earnings and others having to pay back taxes on option expenses that were inappropriately deducted. But the biggest risk is that a key manager will be thrown out. If that happened three management teams ago, it's not a risk. But often these are the visionaries. You have to ask, If the person leaves, would it change my view of the stock?

Are all of the affected companies in technology? Given how the tech sector was the largest issuer of options, most companies will fall in there. About half the stocks we studied were in tech. But the list will include companies in every sector.


What happens to the stocks? We found that stock prices underperformed after companies made an announcement about an investigation. That's not surprising. But the stocks sagged over longer periods of time, too. Stocks fell an average of 1.5% on the day of the announcement, while on average the SP 500 on those days was flat. Then, from the day the companies made an announcement until the end of our study, the stocks on average gained 0.7%, and the SP during the same periods averaged 2.8%. This issue could weigh on stocks a long time.