Trump rally makes stock options great again for some CEOs
BOSTON – Donald Trump once described Jamie Dimon as “the worst banker in the United States,” but the president-elect has helped make the boss of JPMorgan Chase & Co $50 million richer.
Dimon is the top beneficiary among the 30 chief executives who run companies in the Dow Jones Industrial Average index from a stock rally inspired by Trump’s election, according to a Reuters analysis of their option grants.
Trump’s proposed policies for lower taxes, less Wall Street regulation and more infrastructure spending have energized the US stock market since the real estate magnate’s Nov. 8 victory.
The post-election rally even resurrected the value of an option award held by Goldman Sachs Group Inc CEO Lloyd Blankfein that was worthless on the eve of the election. Dimon, a lifelong Democrat, has seen his stock options surge in value by more than $50 million to $146 million since the Republican candidate’s White House win.
Trump criticized Dimon in 2013 for reaching a $13 billion settlement with the US government over the sale of toxic mortgages instead of fighting the case. Nevertheless, he appointed Dimon to the President’s Strategic and Policy Forum, a group of high-profile business leaders he set up last month to advise him on economic growth and job creation. Dimon declined to comment on Trump’s criticism or the rise in value of his holdings.
Stock options held by Dow 30 CEOs surged in value by 23 percent to about $1 billion in 2016, with most of the gain coming after Trump’s election win. The figures reflect outstanding stock options that could be exercised at the end of 2015. Options that expired or vested in 2016 were excluded from the analysis.
In a few cases, CEOs exercised some of those options during 2016, US regulatory filings show. Visa Inc CEO Charles Scharf did not need a Trump-led stock rally to hit the jackpot. About two weeks before the election, he exercised nearly 800,000 options for gross proceeds of almost $33 million, US regulatory filings show. He resigned from Visa effective Dec. 1.
Trump campaigned on the slogan “Make America Great Again,” vowing to bolster the prospects of the American working class by preventing jobs from moving abroad, restricting immigration and renegotiating trade pacts. In 2015, Trump called high salaries paid to CEOs a “joke” and a “disgrace” and said these were often approved by company boards stacked with CEOs’ friends.
To be sure, Trump’s election has helped investors big and small. Hopes of a pro-business agenda have driven the Dow 30 close to 20,000 – a level it has never breached – in a boon for workers’ retirement plans.
“With the recent Trump/Republican win, it appears that investors are getting more excited about potential growth and animal spirits are on the rise,” top investment strategists at Morgan Stanley said this month in a wealth management report. “This is likely to lead to the final euphoric stage of this cyclical bull market which could be quite powerful in 2017’s first half.”
Big stock option gains for Goldman Sachs head Blankfein, American Express Co CEO Kenneth Chenault and JP Morgan’s Dimon may be a surprise, given that their companies have reduced or even eliminated option grants in recent years in favour of stock awards tied to hitting financial targets.
Blankfein’s 322,104 outstanding options, granted in 2007 with a $204.16 strike price, were under water by $7.3 million on the eve of the presidential election. But by the end of 2016, their value had soared to $11.4 million. That was an $18.7 million swing, thanks to the Trump-inspired stock market rally and the US Federal Reserve’s decision to increase interest rates, a boost for banks and credit card companies. Blankfein declined to comment.
Alan Johnson, managing director of pay consulting firm Johnson Associates in New York, said the big gains for the leaders of American Express, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan reflect how stock option compensation can magnify gains in a company’s share price. “When the stock goes up, with options, you get more leverage,” he said.
Critics of stock options say the grants can produce large amounts of wealth for CEOs even with mediocre performance. One reason is that grants often are not linked to any financial performance metric, such as return on equity. And so as the United States nears the eighth year of a bull market, options can increase in value even if the CEOs are running companies whose share price has lagged broad benchmarks during their tenure.
For example, shares of Caterpillar Inc rose 54 percent during Douglas Oberhelman’s tenure as CEO of the big equipment maker from mid-2010 to the end of 2016, while the Dow 30 more than doubled during that span.
But the value of Oberhelman’s options rallied during his last year as CEO, climbing to $20.3 million after being under water by nearly $9 million at the start of 2016.
The options’ value got a $10.6 million booster shot after Trump’s victory. Caterpillar shares rose 36 percent in 2016, making it one of the best performing stocks on the Dow. Trump has said he would use Caterpillar tractors to build a wall between the United States and Mexico. Caterpillar and Oberhelman declined to comment.
Not all CEOs have been winners, however. Coca-Cola Co CEO Muhtar Kent, who contributed $2,700 to Hillary Clinton, Trump’s Democratic rival for president, saw the value of his options decline by $11.3 million to $143 million.
Coca-Cola shares are off 3 percent since Trump was elected amid lingering concerns about consumers cutting their consumption of sugary drinks. A Coca-Cola spokesman declined to comment. -Reuters