By John S. McClenahen Next year promises to continue the recent pattern of linking CEO compensation to company financial performance. Indeed, tying CEO pay to corporate cash earnings will be the most significant CEO compensation trend in 2004, said 41% of 172 executive pay and benefits consultants responding to a mid-November poll conducted by Clark Consulting, North Barrington, Ill. Some 32% identified increased restrictions on cash-out of long-term incentive pay as the most important CEO compensation trend for the upcoming year, and 24% gave that distinction to caps on CEO compensation. As far as the biggest challenge in structuring executive pay at publicly held companies in 2004, there was wide consensus. Nearly three-quarters of the consultants -- 73% -- said the biggest challenge would be coming up with executive compensation plans that would meet increased shareholder scrutiny.