A report from an investor watchdog group criticized the timing of stock options issued to Countrywide Financial Corp. executives. But America's biggest mortgage lender dismissed the report.
Calabasas, Calif.-based Countrywide has been included in a study by The Corporate Library that raises the possibility press releases are timed to benefit CEO stock option awards.
"Since stock options are generally granted with an exercise price of 100 percent fair-market value on the date of the grant, it would seem opportunistic for option grants to be made before the release of good news or after the release of bad news," the report said.
A spokesman for Countrywide, which held the No. 1 spot in MortgageDaily.com's first quarter production ranking, declined comment, suggesting the report is without merit.
Compensation Analyst Alex Higgins said in his report that in both years 2003 and 2004 Countrywide released positive press releases within 30 days of awarding 1.4 million in stock options to its CEO Angelo Mozilo, which subsequently increased the stock price.
And in 2005, Higgins reported Countrywide released negative news within 30 days of its stock option award and followed with two releases of positive news.
The Corporate Library says it is an independent company whose mission is "to provide its clients with timely and high-quality news, data and analysis on corporate governance issues."
For its analysis, Corporate Library said it looked to the Standard & Poor's stock index for companies that pay their CEO at least $1 million annually, had awarded the CEO with stock options within 30 days of a value-relevant press release for three consecutive years with the latest option grant having a Black-Scholes Value greater than $5 million.
Higgins suggested in the report that press releases do in fact have an effect on stock prices. "It may be difficult to monitor whether or not a company purposefully timed a news release or granted stock options in order to allow for a lower exercise price, but it should be possible to ensure that it could not happen."