Are REIT Executives Being Paid Too Much?

Stockholders are mad as heck about skyrocketing executive pay, and they're not going to take it anymore. Empowered by Dodd-Frank to have their say-on-pay, Citigroup (NYSE: C  ) shareholders recently made their dissatisfaction with Vikram Pandit's $15 million compensation package known, voting against it by a margin of 55%. This was a historic, albeit non-binding, example of stockholder discontent, which probably colored Bank of America's (NYSE: BAC  ) annual meeting as well. CEO Brian Moynihan was able to keep his pay and perks with shareholders' blessings, however.

The angst concerning executive pay is spilling over into the REIT sector, where pay and perk packages have been increasing to the point where they now represent twice the value gains of a given company's stock. The study that trained the spotlight on this issue notes that compensation packages since 2010 have increased by 48% for Michael Farrell, CEO of Annaly Capital Management (NYSE: NLY  ) -- the wildly popular, well-respected mortgage REIT -- bringing his total take to $35 million this year. This, as Bloomberg notes, is more than any of the heads of the nation's six biggest banks pull down per year.

Next in line is mall REIT Simon Property Group (NYSE: SPG  ) and top manager David Simon, whose pay package for the past year was just a bit over $32 million, a two-year increase of 159%. John Kilroy, head of Kilroy Realty Group (NYSE: KRC  ) , a REIT that specializes in office space, collected nearly $18 million over the past year, a spike of almost 200% during the same span of time.

Though Annaly's return to investors was only 7%, Farrell's pay hasn't raised the ire of shareholders like it has over at Kilroy, where stockholders have, for the second time in a row, voted down the executive compensation package. The vote was a nay for Simon's remuneration, as well, amid concern over the millions thrown at Simon to keep him on board for the next eight years. Many investors didn't see the need, considering the family ties that bind the CEO to the company.

Fool's take
For Simon Group and Kilroy, shareholders seemed to feel that the compensation packages were overdone for the size of each company -- and, to a lesser extent, the level of performance. Investors in REITs may have other considerations, too. Since these entities are required by law to return 90% of net income to investors in order to avoid the taxation schedule of other corporations, excessive pay and perks for the big boys reduce the kitty from which the average investor's payout will be calculated.

For Annaly, the 17% annualized returns investors have been getting from the company since its 1997 IPO seem to be keeping shareholders sated, at least for now. Although management isn't paying a lot of attention to what shareholders think in regard to compensation packages, the floodgates have opened up, and what now may pass for venting will eventually become input that executives ignore at their peril. This applies especially to REITs, where the 90% rule necessarily means that there is never tons of money in the coffers. Stockholders represent an important way for these companies to raise needed capital, so playing fast and loose with investor's concerns is not a good business model. Investors have spoken; now all that remains is to see how long it takes for management to listen.

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Fool contributor Amanda Alix owns no shares in the companies mentioned above.

The Motley Fool owns shares of Citigroup, Annaly Capital Management, and Bank of America. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Annaly Capital Management. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.


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  • Report this Comment On June 07, 2012, at 12:17 PM, jvgfool wrote:

    Why doesn't free market competition bring down excessive executive pay? There are many other talented people who can lead these companies for less pay and in many case do a better job.

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