The Effects of Current Income Attributes on Nonprofessional Investors’ Say-on-Pay Judgments: Does Fairness Still Matter?

Journal of Business Ethics 153 (2):407-425 (2018)
The say-on-pay regulation in the Dodd-Frank Act requires publicly-traded U.S. firms to hold a nonbinding, advisory shareholder vote on executive compensation. Advocates claim that SOP voting gives shareholders a mechanism to hold managers and boards more accountable. Critics contend that SOP votes may simplistically reflect shareholders’ reactions to the overall value of CEO compensation or the firm’s net income. However, based on prior research, we contend that market participants’ SOP votes are likely to consider current income attributes. For example, the market punishes firms that do not meet or beat benchmarks such as analyst earnings expectations, and that shareholders scrutinize the quality of the income sources of firms that consistently meet/beat analyst expectations. We thus expect that more shareholders will provide ‘agree’ SOP votes for a firm that consistently meets/beats analyst forecasts and does so when net income does not include nonrecurring gains. Further, we consider whether perceptions about the fairness of CEO compensation play a mediating role in the relationship between the interaction of these two current income attributes and SOP votes. Results from an experiment using evening MBA students as participants indicates that the two current income attributes significantly interact with respect to the percentage of agree SOP votes, and that compensation fairness perceptions fully mediate this relationship. Further, the mediating effect of compensation fairness perceptions is robust to including CEO-level and other determinants found in prior research. We conclude with a discussion of our findings and their implications for public policy and research.
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DOI 10.1007/s10551-016-3315-3
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