In this study, we investigate the extent to which exercise of executive stock options is based upon private information. Contrary to popular belief, we find that shares are held more than 30 days following over a quarter of options exercised. Partitioning the data, we find weak evidence that decisions to exercise and sell immediately are prompted by bad news and stronger evidence that decisions to exercise and hold for at least 30 days are prompted by good news. Enhancing the power of our tests by considering several factors important to exercise decisions, we find that the higher the opportunity costs of early exercise as measured by the time-value of options, the greater the trading profits to executives. We also find that the greater the disguise provided by incentives to diversify and consume as measured by the depth of options in the money, the greater the trading profits to executives who exercise and sell. Turning to non-exercise decisions, we find that a strategy of holding options rather than shares to exploit good news yields positive abnormal returns consistent with theoretical predictions in the absence of dividends.
Review of Accounting Studies – Springer Journals
Published: Jul 7, 2007
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