Review of Quantitative Finance and Accounting

, Volume 26, Issue 3, pp 301-319

First online:

Stock option compensation and the likelihood of meeting analysts' quarterly earnings targets

  • Mark P. BaumanAffiliated withSchool of Business Administration, University of Northern Iowa
  • , Kenneth W. ShawAffiliated withCollege of Business, University of Missouri Email author 

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One role of stock options in executive compensation packages is to counterbalance the inherently short-term orientation of base salary and annual bonuses. Managerial compensation plans frequently include stock options in order to better align the interests of managers and outside shareholders and reduce agency problems. However, since option values are sensitive to fluctuations in stock prices, and investors reward firms that meet or exceed earnings expectations, executives of firms with sizable option components in their compensation plans have increased incentives to report earnings that meet or exceed analysts' forecasts. We show that the propensity to meet or exceed analysts' quarterly earnings forecasts is positively related to the use of options in top executives' compensation plans. Further, firms that employ relatively more options in their compensation plans more frequently report earnings surprises that exceed analysts' forecast by small amounts (between 0 and 1 cent per share). These results suggest that the use of stock-based compensation intensifies top executives' focus on financial analysts' short-term earnings forecasts.