October 21, 2010

More on “The Boston Globe’s Scoop: Many Companies Can’t Do the Executive Pay Math”

Not surprisingly, I received quite a bit of member feedback on my recent blog about the Boston Globe article that found many companies incorrectly totaling the amounts in their Summary Compensation Tables. Others are blogging about this story too, such as this entry from Mark Borges in his “Proxy Disclosure Blog.”

Here is a useful response from Jim Brashear of Zix Corporation:

I copied the summary compensation table from one of the SEC filings cited in the recent Boston Globe article on math errors in proxy statements, and I pasted it into this Word document. I wondered if the addition errors could have been avoided by some simple changes to how the Word tables were formatted. Avoided at least while the issuer and its counsel are working on the document in Word, before it gets handed off to the printer and is reformatted.

A lot of lawyers don’t know that you can use Word tables very much like Excel spreadsheets. It’s particularly easy to sum columns and rows of adjacent cells that all contain numbers. If there are intervening cells that are empty or have non-number characters, it’s a bit more complicated to sum the cells, but it can still be done.

In my Word document, the top table is straight from the SEC filing (only names redacted). The bottom table shows how I cleaned up the table to remove the cell “padding”, replaced the dashes with zeros and, most importantly, inserted into the far right column a formula that calculates automatically the sum of the columns to the left. (I left one blank column between Year and Salary so that the formula would not add the year date to the compensation amount.

Inserting a formula is done in Word from the Table menu by selecting Formula. Word will even suggest the correct formula – in this case “=SUM(LEFT)”. Then, the author selects the Number Format to display $ and the commas (delete the cents if you don’t want them). Voila, no more simple addition errors! If there are changes to numbers in the table, you may have to refresh the formula cells by selecting them and pressing F9 – but that refresh happens automatically when the document is printed.

And here is a follow-up from a member: While this would work, since most company’s external reporting departments already prepare the tables in Excel, all you need to do is copy the Excel table in Excel and then paste it into the Word document at the proper location. You can even re-open the table in the Word document while in Word and edit the Excel spreadsheet.

By the way, here is a follow-up article from the Boston Globe that includes some quotes from a SEC spokesperson. I agree with the thoughts in the article from Lynn Turner that it would be impossible for Corp Fin Staff to be involved in checking the math when conducting their disclosure reviews. For me, not only is it impossible, it is impractical. Who would ever think that the team of folks that draft disclosure documents wouldn’t bother to check the math…and is Corp Fin expected to foot every row and column of numbers in the financials too when a filing is selected for review?

The Wall Street Jargon iPhone App

In this podcast, Kirk Davenport of Latham & Watkins describes his firm’s new iPhone application, including:

– What is the Wall Street jargon app?
– How long did it take to create?
– Have there been any surprises since it was launched?

More on our “Proxy Season Blog”

With the proxy season gearing up once more, we are posting new items regularly on our “Proxy Season Blog” for members. Members can sign up to get that blog pushed out to them via email whenever there is a new entry by simply inputting their email address on the left side of that blog. Here are some of the latest entries:

– Gadflies Get Press
– Proxy Plumbing: First Salvos
– Fortune Uses Proxy Democracy to Question Vanguard
– Corp Fin to Issue Rule 14a-8 Staff Legal Bulletin Before ’11 Season
– Proxy Season Review: Majority-Supported Proposals

– Broc Romanek