Loading springs and dodging bullets

Two terms, “spring-loading” and “bullet-dodging” have reminded me of the tendency in business to put a positive spin on negative practices.

Spring-loading refers to the practice of granting options immediately before releasing good news that will likely increase the stock price, resulting in options that are not in the money technically when granted, but are, shortly thereafter.

Bullet-dodging refers to the practice of granting options immediately after releasing bad news that will likely decrease the stock price, resulting in options that avoid being further out of the money had they been granted before the news.

These practices are shady, dishonest, and similar to insider trading in that they take advantage of the difference in information that company insiders have compared to outsiders.

The use of options to motivate management and align their interests with that of shareholders is still relatively new, but it’s increasingly subject to manipulation that is unfair to ordinary investors.

Along with the ongoing SEC investigations into backdating of options, future investigations into spring-loading and bullet-dodging could turn up more violations of ethics in business.

The attractiveness of options continues to decline with every instance of abuse. As Jack Ciesielski points out:

What made them attractive in the first place was that they were “money for nothing” with little visibility into their disbursement.

Now that options are getting the publicity they deserve, and none of it positive, their use will stay in the spotlight until ethical use becomes the norm.

What do you think about the use of options as compensation? Is spring-loading and bullet-dodging really wrong, or am I up in arms about nothing?


Tangled web they wove

Over at the AAO Weblog, there’s an interesting post concerning the Adelphia fraud and an “enabler”, Scientific-Atlanta, which is now a unit of Cisco.

Around August 2000, Adelphia asked Scientific-Atlanta to increase the price of digital cable television set-top boxes it was selling to Adelphia – then kick back the difference to Adelphia in as “marketing support” for moving the set-top boxes.

How did the scheme work to increase earnings? Adelphia capitalized the set-top boxes at the inflated purchase price (and amortized the cost over more than one period) and the marketing support kickback was recorded as a reduction of ordinary marketing expense!

Ingenius! Now if Adelphia had just channelled their creative energies to building a legitimate business… Anyway, this is news because the SEC accused Scientific-Atlanta of aiding and abetting the fraud.

Without admitting or denying guilt, Scientific-Atlanta is settling the charges for $20 million.