For several years, Micrel allowed its employees to choose the lowest price for the stock within 30 days of receiving the options.After these stock option terms came to the attention of the IRS in 2002, it worked out a secret deal with Micrel that would allow Micrel to escape million in taxes and required the IRS to keep quiet about the option terms.ESOs are usually granted at-the-money, i.e., the exercise price of the options is set to equal the market price of the underlying stock on the grant date.Because the option value is higher if the exercise price is lower, executives prefer to be granted options when the stock price is at its lowest.Most shareholder approved option plans prohibit in-the-money option grants (and thus, backdating to create in-the-money grants) by requiring that option exercise prices must be no less than the fair market value of the stock on the date when the grant decision is made. For example, because backdating is used to choose a grant date with a lower price than on the actual decision date, the options are effectively in-the-money on the decision date, and the reported earnings should be reduced for the fiscal year of the grant.
However, if the options were effectively in-the-money on the decision date, they might not qualify for such tax deductions.
In comparison, had the options been granted at the year-end price when the decision to grant to options actually might have been made, the year-end intrinsic value would have been zero.
Backdating does not violate shareholder-approved option plans.
However, under the new FAS 123R, the expense is based on the fair market value on the grant date, such that even at-the-money options have to be expensed.) Because backdating is typically not reflected properly in earnings, some companies that have recently admitted to backdating of options have restated earnings for past years. The exercise price affects the basis that is used for estimating both the company's compensation expense for tax purposes and any capital gain for the option recipient.
Thus, an artificially low exercise price might alter the tax payments for both the company and the option recipient.