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How Many Grant Dates Can One Option Have?

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May 19, 2015 | Barbara Baksa

How Many Grant Dates Can One Option Have?

How many grant dates can one option have? The answer, as it turns out, is more than you might think.  I was recently contacted by a reporter who was looking at the proxy disclosures for a public company and was convinced that the company was doing something dodgy with respect to a performance option granted to the CEO.  The option was not reported in the SCT for the year in which it was granted, even though the company discussed the award in some detail in the CD&A, had reported the grant on a Form 4, and the option price was equal to the FMV on the date the board approved the grant.  The reporter was convinced this was some clever new backdating scheme, or some way of getting around some sort of limit on the number of shares that could be granted (either the per-person limit in the plan for 162(m) purposes or the aggregate shares allocated to the plan).

Bifurcated Grant Dates

When I read through the proxy disclosures, I could see why the reporter was confused.  The problem was that the option had several future performance periods and the compensation committee wasn't planning to set the performance goals until the start of each period. The first performance period didn't start until the following year.

Under ASC 718 the key terms of an award have to be mutually understood by both parties (company and award recipient) for the grant date to occur. I'm not sure why the standard requires this.  I reviewed the "Basis for Conclusions" in FAS 123(R) and the FASB essentially said "because that's the way we've always done it." I'm paraphrasing—they didn't actually say that, but that was the gist of it.  Read it for yourself: paragraph B49 (in the original standard, the "Basis for Conclusions" wasn't ported over to the Codification system).

The performance goals are most certainly a key metric. So even though the option was granted for purposes of Section 409A and any other tax purposes (the general standard to establish a grant date under the tax code is merely that the corporate action necessary to effect the grant, i.e., board approval, be completed), the option did not yet have a grant date for accounting purposes.

And the SCT looks to ASC 718 for purposes of determining the value of the option that should be reported therein. Without a grant date yet for ASC 718 purposes, the option also isn't considered granted for purposes of the SCT. Thus, the company was right to discuss the grant in the CD&A but not report it in the SCT. (The company did explain why the grant wasn't reported in the SCT and the explanation made perfect sense to me, but I spend an excessive amount of time thinking about accounting for stock compensation. To a layperson, who presumably has other things to do with his/her time, I could see how it was confusing and suspicious).

Trifurcated Grant Dates?

The option vested based on goals other than stock price targets, so it is interesting that the company chose to report the option on a Form 4 at the time the grant was approved by the compensation committee. Where a performance award (option or RSU) is subject to performance conditions other than a stock price target, the grant date for Section 16 purposes doesn't occur until the performance goals are met. So the company could have waited until the options vested to file the Form 4.

If you are keeping score, that's three different grant dates for one option:

Purpose  Grant Date
 1. Tax  Approval date
 2. Accounting / SCT  Date goals are determined
 3. Form 4  Date goals are met

If the FASB is looking for other areas to simplify ASC 718, the determination of grant date is just about at the top of my list. While they are at it, it might nice if the SEC would take another look at the Form 4 reporting requirements, because I'm pretty sure just about everyone (other than Peter Romeo and Alan Dye, of course) is confused about them (I had to look them up).

- Barbara

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