, Volume 111, Issue 2, pp 157-164
Date: 11 Jan 2012

The Ethics of Hedging by Executives

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Abstract

Executives of many publicly held firms agree to compensation packages that create immense exposure to their employer’s stock. Corporate boards, aspiring to motivate executives to make value-maximizing decisions, often tie an executive’s earnings to stock price performance through stock or option awards. However, this engenders a significant ethical dilemma for many executives who are uncomfortable with sizable, firm-specific risk and desire to reduce it through hedging activities. Recent research has shown that executive hedging has become more prevalent. In essence, managers are unwinding the acute economic incentive to act in the best interest of the owners. This appears to violate the spirit of the compensation contract and from a normative standpoint, is not how executives should act. In this article, we describe how some executives are acting in regard to this issue (descriptive ethics), how they should act (normative ethics) and how they can be helped to get from what they are doing, to what they should be doing (prescriptive ethics).