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Unless corporate insiders can predict short-term movements in the stock market, my results provided further evidence in support of the backdating explanation.
In a second study forthcoming in the Journal of Financial Economics (available at Randy Heron of Indiana University and I examined the stock price pattern around ESO grants before and after a new SEC requirement in August of 2002 that option grants must be reported within two business days.
In particular, he found that stock prices tend to increase shortly after the grants.
He attributed most of this pattern to grant timing, whereby executives would be granted options before predicted price increases.
The number of shares subject to option was 250,000 and the exercise price was (the trough in the stock price graph below.) Given a year-end price of , the intrinsic value of the options at the end of the year was (-) x 250,000 = ,750,000.
There is also some relatively early anecdotal evidence of backdating.
A particularly interesting example is that of Micrel Inc.
Backdating allows executives to choose a past date when the market price was particularly low, thereby inflating the value of the options.
An example illustrates the potential benefit of backdating to the recipient.
A 2004 NY Times article describes this case in greater detail (the article is available here), and so does a 2006 article in Tax Notes Magazine (available here).