Another day, another report of cherry-picked options grants in the ever-growing backdating scandal.
The possible perpetrator du jour is Monster Worldwide
Early today, the Wall Street Journal broke a story that showed that some of the company's stock grants smelled a wee bit fishy. The funny-looking grants were made between 1997 and 2001 to former company second-in-charge James Treacy. The pattern is familiar to anyone who knows the basics of this scandal-in-the-making: A lot of options were granted on dates that just happen to correspond to quarterly or yearly lows.
This can occur for a couple of reasons. One is that the recipients are extremely lucky -- Treacy's Monster jackpot was a one-in-nine-million chance, according to the Journal's numbers. The other is that the options are being granted with 20/20 hindsight, postdated to correspond to grant dates and prices that ensure a maximum return for the lucky (or shady?) insider.
This morning, Monster said that it had retained counsel and ordered the board to look into the issue. By early afternoon, Monster was announcing a subpoena from the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
The handy backdating scandal table at the Journal now shows almost four dozen companies looking into their own options grants or doing so because they have to. Last week we saw frumpy, crafty Michaels Stores
How many more monsters are out there that have yet to crawl out from under the rocks? Your guess is as good as mine, but if the number ends up below three digits, I'll eat those Form 4s.
And though it will be a while before this all shakes out, shareholders would do well to pay attention right now. Given changes in options reporting and moves by some companies, including Monster, toward restricted stock grants, the opportunities for the alleged backdating monkeyshines will be far fewer in the future.
However, the way that management responds to the issue will give you valuable clues as to whether you've got real stewards looking after your investment, or a bunch of money-grubbing spin-meisters. If anyone tries to tell you they hit the 1-in-X-million odds by sheer luck, consider packing it in, because the real odds are that you're being snowed. And if insiders are in fact greedy enough to game their pay by cherry-picking grant dates, there's no telling where their next bit of creative accounting might show up.
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Seth Jayson suspects that when you lie down with dogs, you probably get fewer fleas than when you bunk with corporate execs. At the time of publication, he had no positions in any company mentioned here. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. CNET Networks is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation, while McAfee is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. Fool rules are here .