December 21, 2007 / 8:10 PM / 13 years ago

U.S. SEC launches Web tool to compare executive pay

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday gave investors an easier way to compare executive compensation at 500 U.S. companies with an online, interactive tool.

The online tool includes direct links to full proxy statements, including footnotes and the companies’ explanation of their compensation decisions.

The site — www.sec.gov/xbrl — also lets users compare pay data by industry, executive type and size of company, among other specifications.

“Gone are the complicated data expeditions that forced investors to hunt through financial statements, footnotes, proxy statements, and other disclosure documents to figure out how much a company pays its top executives,” SEC Chairman Christopher Cox said in a statement.

The SEC adopted stricter rules about executive pay disclosure a year ago that resulted in more details in annual shareholder proxy statements in 2007.

One of the major changes was a requirement that companies disclose major executives’ total compensation as a single figure. Previously, companies presented the pay data in a jumble of charts and tables.

The new SEC tool takes advantage of XBRL, a global machine-readable standard that enables investors to instantly analyze detailed financial numbers.

The SEC electronically tagged the compensation data itself, but the agency is expected to eventually require companies to file their financial data in XBRL. About 60 companies now file financial statements in XBRL as part of an SEC pilot program to test the technology.

Using the new tool, an analysis showed that former Merrill Lynch CEO Stan O’Neal was the highest-paid executive in 2006 at the largest U.S. companies included in the data set.

He earned $91.38 million in total compensation last year.

Behind him were former AT&T Inc CEO Ed Whitacre with $60.73 million in 2006 pay, Merrill Lynch Executive Vice President Ahmass Fakahany with $50.85 million, AT&T Inc retired president David Dorman with $44.71 million, and ConocoPhillips CEO James Mulva with $43.44 million.

The executive compensation tool also allows users to compare valuation methods for option awards, which was the issue of a controversial, 11th-hour change to the new pay disclosure rules one year ago.

The summary compensation table initially was to include an estimated value for stock options granted during the year. But the SEC changed its mind and announced in December 2006 that the table would instead include the value of option grants that vested, or became eligible to be exercised, during the year.

Some investor advocates said the approach of focusing on incremental vesting amounts could obscure the real gains of executives by shrinking the option values in the summary table and in the bottom-line single number.

But the agency noted on Friday the tool reveals chief executives at the 100 largest companies had a combined total compensation of $1.89 billion, based on the value of grants that vested during the year. The total would have been $1.79 billion if the SEC had kept its initial approach.

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