, Volume 30, Issue 1, pp 70-92

Performance compensation contracts and CEOs’ incentive to shift risk to debtholders: An empirical analysis

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Abstract

The paper investigates the relationships among CEO incentive contracts, manager ownership, charter value, and bank risk taking. We analyze whether the presence and magnitude of incentive contracts induce CEOs of financially distressed firms and firms with high manager ownership to take unprofitable risks that shift wealth from debtholders to equity holders. Our sample focuses on banks that had both the incentive and opportunity to shift risks, and compares them with those that did not. We compare weak and strong banks in periods when the banks’ principal creditor, the FDIC, was a lenient and then a stringent monitor. The evidence is consistent with bonus compensation inducing CEOs of financially weak firms to shift risk to debtholders only if they do not have large insider ownership. The evidence is also consistent with these contracts rewarding CEOs for their effort to manage unforeseeable risk albeit not their ability. Low charter value banks with high managerial ownership took profitable risk during the lenient regulatory period.