Options Expensing: Postponed Today, 'Tsunami' Tomorrow?

Compiled By Deborah Austin Following recent accounting scandals, corporations face investor pressure to classify employee stock options as an expense. But 53% of major corporations say they're postponing such decisions; only 8% plan to begin expensing options within the next year -- and another 35% only if mandated by legislative/regulatory changes -- suggests a recent survey by professional services firm Deloitte & Touche LLP. The toughest issue: finding proper valuation methodologies. Of respondents, 91% currently do not expense options. Under U.S. accounting rules, companies can choose to expense options or disclose them in financial reports' footnotes. However, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) -- which sets U.S. rules -- is considering converging standards with the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB), which proposes mandatory share-based payment expensing. Such proposals -- coupled with prominent companies' expensing plan announcements -- could trigger an "options-expensing Tsunami" further squelching stock prices, warns Deloitte & Touche. Of survey respondents, 72% say stock options are their only long-term incentive program; 61% are considering returning to cash-based performance plans.

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