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Not you, too, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) !
Fresh from announcing market-besting quarterly results last night, Google is repricing its employee stock options. In other words, workers holding options with strike prices that are underwater -- and 85% of them are, according to Google -- will have the opportunity to exchange them for new options at fresher market prices.
Sure, the new voluntary exchange will add a year to the vesting schedule, but it's still a great deal for employees -- and a lousy one for shareholders.
Investors don't get a mulligan. Joe Googleholder, who snapped up the stock at $600 a year ago, can't just lower his cost basis to $300 and get half of his money back. The move will result in a $460 million modification charge if all of the underwater options are exchanged.
"I'm opposed to repricing because it violates the spirit of aligning interests," Fool Tim Beyers wrote two months ago. "It's evil. I'm worried that Google, a stock I own, will see it as a necessary evil."
Well, slap the goatee on Big G's doppelganger, because the company has indeed gone to the dark side.
Google is only the latest company to mark down its stock options:
- Aladdin Knowledge Systems (Nasdaq: ALDN ) let that genie out of the bottle over the summer.
- Virtualization software leader VMware (NYSE: VMW ) followed suit, after post-IPO gains cratered.
- Chip maker Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD ) hopped on board two months ago.
So what's the deal? I understand the concept of stock options as both a retention and motivational tool. If a stock rises, a company's hires likely deserve a piece of the action. Why mark it down if the opposite happens? Why should employees get a do-over?
If you argue that individual employees aren't to blame for a stock's demise, why nurture the illusion that they are the ones responsible for its ascent?
I couldn't agree more. Repricing merely adds insult to injury for smacked-down investors. I understand that companies need to attract and retain their talent. But why should shareholders be stuck with the dilution tab?
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