U.S bonus gravy train shows no signs of slowing

Nov 16 2006 by Brian Amble Print This Article

American bosses saw their bonuses go up by almost half this year and their overall cash compensation by nearly a third, further fuelling the debate over the level of executive remuneration on both sides of the Atlantic.

The figures from the Economic Research Institute and the Wall Street Journal's CareerJournal.com reported that the highest-paid executives received a 48.2 per cent increase in their average annual cash bonus and were paid 31.2 per cent more total cash compensation.

These findings are calculated from year-to-date reporting for 2006 compared to the year-to-date in 2005.

The November index indicated that while base pay decreased slightly, higher bonuses resulted in an average total cash compensation per executive of $4,795,096 (a 31.2 per cent increase over 2005).

The previous yearly high of $3,683,131 total cash compensation was set in 2001, prior to 9/11, the survey said.

Average compensation for these top executives dropped in 2002 but has increased each year since then.

The total cash compensation index reflects data from a representative group of 45 publicly traded companies randomly selected from the approximately 6,500 companies that reported compensation data to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

It has tracked pay for the highest paid executive in this group of companies since 1997.

For the highest paid executives, the average base salary now stood at $1,273,978 compared to 2005 base salary levels of $1,277,944, the research showed.

This reflected a 0.31 per cent decrease in base compensation, it added.

For the highest paid executives, the average annual cash bonus was $3,521,615, compared to 2005 cash bonus levels of $2,375,615, reflecting a 48.2 per cent increase.

For the highest paid executives, the average total cash compensation, in other words base plus bonus, was $4,795,096 compared to the 2005 figure of $3,653,559, or a 31.2 per cent increase.

The data, said the institute and CareerJournal.com, clearly illustrated a trend towards keeping base salaries relatively steady while providing additional compensation in the form of bonus payments.

The average base salary for the top executives increased only 43.5 per cent from 1997 to 2006, against annual bonuses, which rose 283.2 per cent in the same timescale.

The figures are just the latest to show the spiralling rewards for those in the most senior positions.

In September, a study by compensation consultancy Pearl Meyer & Partners reported that directors of major American companies took home on average $204,000 last year, a hike of 12 per cent and the third year running that growth has been in double digits.

And in Britain, a survey of FTSE-100 companies by analysts Incomes Data Services found top executives were now earning almost 100 times more than the average worker.

Yet there are also signs that the gravy-train of executive pay is causing concern. A poll in October by the Center for Effective Organizations at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business and executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles suggested an increasing number of corporate board directors in the U.S. now believe CEO pay is too high.