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There is also some relatively early anecdotal evidence of backdating.
A particularly interesting example is that of Micrel Inc.
For several years, Micrel allowed its employees to choose the lowest price for the stock within 30 days of receiving the options.
After these stock option terms came to the attention of the IRS in 2002, it worked out a secret deal with Micrel that would allow Micrel to escape million in taxes and required the IRS to keep quiet about the option terms.
Unfortunately, these conditions are rarely met, making backdating of grants illegal in most cases.
(In fact, it can be argued that if these conditions hold, there is little reason to backdating options, because the firm can simply grant in-the-money options instead.)David Yermack of NYU was the first researcher to document some peculiar stock price patterns around ESO grants.
In particular, he found that stock prices tend to increase shortly after the grants.
He attributed most of this pattern to grant timing, whereby executives would be granted options before predicted price increases.
In a study that I started in 2003 and disseminated in the first half of 2004 and that was published in Management Science in May 2005 (available at I found that stock prices also tend to decrease before the grants.
Most shareholder approved option plans prohibit in-the-money option grants (and thus, backdating to create in-the-money grants) by requiring that option exercise prices must be no less than the fair market value of the stock on the date when the grant decision is made. For example, because backdating is used to choose a grant date with a lower price than on the actual decision date, the options are effectively in-the-money on the decision date, and the reported earnings should be reduced for the fiscal year of the grant.
(Under APB 25, the accounting rule that was in effect until 2005, firms did not have to expense options at all unless they were in-the-money.
Backdating allows executives to choose a past date when the market price was particularly low, thereby inflating the value of the options.
An example illustrates the potential benefit of backdating to the recipient.