The number of shares subject to option was 250,000 and the exercise price was (the trough in the stock price graph below.) Given a year-end price of , the intrinsic value of the options at the end of the year was (-) x 250,000 = ,750,000.

Because the option value is higher if the exercise price is lower, executives prefer to be granted options when the stock price is at its lowest.

Backdating allows executives to choose a past date when the market price was particularly low, thereby inflating the value of the options.

Thus, an artificially low exercise price might alter the tax payments for both the company and the option recipient.

Further, at-the-money options are considered performance-based compensation, and can therefore be deducted for tax purposes even if executives are paid in excess of $1 million (see Section 162(m) of the Internal Revenue Code).

(In fact, it can be argued that if these conditions hold, there is little reason to backdating options, because the firm can simply grant in-the-money options instead.)David Yermack of NYU was the first researcher to document some peculiar stock price patterns around ESO grants.

In particular, he found that stock prices tend to increase shortly after the grants.

In a second study forthcoming in the Journal of Financial Economics (available at Randy Heron of Indiana University and I examined the stock price pattern around ESO grants before and after a new SEC requirement in August of 2002 that option grants must be reported within two business days.

The graph below shows the dramatic effect of this new requirement on the lag between the grant and filing dates.

An example illustrates the potential benefit of backdating to the recipient.