Case ID: CMR348
Solution ID: 10035

Point of View Expensing Employee Stock Options Is Improper Accounting

Case Solution

In December 2004, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) adopted a new standard of accounting for employee stock options (ESOs). This standard, entitled Statement of Financial Accounting Standards 123R, requires that ESOs be valued at the date of grant and expensed over the vesting period of the options. The signatories to this position paper strongly oppose this revision to GAAP because they believe that the expenses of ESOs is improper accounting that will result in the serious impairment of the financial statements of companies that are users of broad-based option plans. The case against expenses ESOs can be summed up in six simple statements: an ESO is a "gain-sharing instrument" in which shareholders agree to share their gains (stock appreciation), if any, with employees; a gain-sharing instrument, by its nature, has no accounting cost unless and until there is a gain to be shared; the cost of a gain-sharing instrument must be located on the books of the party that reaps the gain--in the case of an ESO the gain is reaped by shareholders and not by the enterprise; the cost of the ESO, therefore, is borne by the shareholders; this cost to shareholders (which, not coincidentally, exactly equals the employee's post-tax profit) is already properly accounted for under the treasury stock method of accounting (described in FAS 128, entitled "Earnings per Share") as a transfer of value from shareholders to employee option holders; and neither the grant nor the vesting of an ESO meets the standard accounting definition of an expense. These six statements lead to the conclusion that an ESO, while it may have an economic cost to shareholders, is not an expense of the entity that grants it.

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