Thursday, May 7, 2009

These Companies Are Buying WHAT?

Skechers (SKX), maker of men's and women's shoes, recently purchased a used car for $120,000. Natural gas producer Chesapeake Energy (CHK), just bought a historical map collection for $12.1 million. These purchases appear completely unrelated to the respective operations of these companies, but they do have one thing in common: these items were purchased from each company's executives!

Since these transactions are taking place at fair market value, these don't form part of executive pay (which can be found easily by following these instructions). Instead, they are just executive perks that most shareholders won't ever know about. But these items are disclosed in proxy statements, and Michelle Leder of footnoted.org is determined to expose them. Her site is dedicated to reporting the items that companies try to bury in their routine SEC filings.

Reading Michelle's site can make a shareholder (executive) depressed (excited)! Post after post reveals many an instance of shareholders getting ripped off without their knowledge. For example, Raytheon (RTN) paid moving expenses of $229,000 for its CEO. As if that weren't enough, it paid this same CEO $500,000 because that's how much his house price dropped since he bought it...why on earth should shareholders be paying for a home buyer's mistake?

While one could argue that the best executives earn far more for shareholders than they cost, that's beside the point. What it costs to retain an executive should be part of his salary; it should not be buried in fine print. Until this is the case, we unfortunately have to spend hours on end digging through SEC disclosures, and we can take advantage of the fact that Michelle is doing some of the work for us!

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