U.S. CEO Pay Figures Show Lowest Median  Increase since Financial Crisis

CEOs in San Francisco, Boston Metropolitan Areas See Biggest Gains over Previous Year

ROCKVILLE, Md. (April 19, 2016)  – ISS Corporate Solutions, Inc., a leading provider of compensation and governance  tools and advisory services to help companies improve shareholder value and reduce risk, today announced findings from an analysis of U.S. CEO pay figures for companies reporting their financials through April 15, 2016.

An analysis of ExecComp Analytics data finds total median CEO pay, excluding pensions, at large capital U.S. companies grew just 3.9 percent, representing the lowest level of increase since the financial crisis of 2008. An examination of 280 S&P500 company filings year-to-date finds that median pay stands at just under $10.5 million compared with roughly $10.2 million in fiscal 2014.  Including pension allocations, the median CEO pay raise was only 0.1 percent.

“Muted pay increases may reflect increased market uncertainty caused by energy price fluctuations and, more broadly, by spikes in market volatility indices that began to occur more frequently in the fourth quarter of 2014,” said John Roe, Head of Advisory at ISS Corporate Solutions. “Some compensation committees responded by being more conservative in their increases, and focusing those increases in performance-based awards, to encourage better pay-for-performance outcomes.”

The largest driver of the diminished year-over-year pay changes was smaller allocations to CEO pensions.  These pension allocations declined in earnest in 2015, in aggregate falling by more than 57 percent year-over-year mostly due to large one-time adjustments that companies took in 2014 due to changes in actuarial tables, combined with lowered interest rate expectations. In aggregate, pension allocations across those 280 S&P500 companies studied dropped by $262 million.  These decreases almost entirely offset increases in other areas of CEO pay.

Non-equity incentive payments, which typically provide a barometer for compensation committees’ evaluation of annual performance, dipped modestly though far less so than overall market performance.  These payments, which are typically annual cash awards made to reward the realization of predefined performance objectives, were in aggregate down roughly 1.7 percent in fiscal 2015 compared with 2014, in a year where the S&P 500 index performance fell 12.4 percent.

For S&P 500 CEOs, base salary increases were roughly in line with those for rank-and-file employees.  The median base salary raise for CEOs from 2014 to 2015 was 2.2 percent, lower than the median 3.0 percent raise forecast for U.S. company workers.  Moreover, discretionary bonuses continued their retreat, paid out by less than 12 percent of these companies and accounting for only 2.3 percent of aggregate S&P 500 CEO pay.

As in past years, stock grants made up for some of the modest base salary increases, with the median S&P 500 CEO receiving 5.8 percent more value in stock grants during fiscal 2015 than in 2014.  However, the use of stock options by the compensation committees of S&P 500 companies continued its slow decline.  The decreases in option grants offset more than half of the increases associated with full value stock grants.  “Combined with a trend to maintain a balance of time-based and performance-based equity awards, this overall led to pay packages that are generally more favored by investors,” said Roe.

Across industries, companies in the Health Care Equipment & Services and Real Estate groupings saw double-digit gains in median CEO pay of 12.8 and 11.7 percent, respectively. By location, median CEO pay also saw double digit gains in the San Francisco Bay Area and Boston of 10.8 and 10.5 percent, respectively.

“Strong sustained performance by some in the industry, such as Cigna and Henry Schein in Health Care Equipment & Services and Extra Space Storage and Public Storage in Real Estate, help explain the strong increases seen in 2015,” said Roe.  “And there is some strong overlap between the top industries and top geographies, with companies such as Intuitive Surgical and Varian Medical Systems in the San Francisco area, and Boston Properties and Boston Scientific Corporation in Massachusetts.”

For purposes of this analysis, ISS Corporate Solutions focused on median year-over-changes, rather than changes in the median, and compared only CEOs that were in place for full-year 2014 and 2015 and excluded “unusual” CEO situations that may cause pay abnormalities, such as dual-CEOs. The analysis looked at all companies filing after July 1, 2015, as having disclosed their 2015 pay. For the regional (metropolitan statistical areas) and industry analysis, only geographies and industries with at least 10 companies reporting are included. Underlying data and additional commentary are available to credentialed press by contacting us below.