Monday, 20 February 2012

CEO Pay: Seven Canadian Companies with their Heads Screwed on Right

My last post about the insane escalation of pay for CEOs over the last few decades finished with a teaser. It promised a list of companies where some sense of sanity seems to prevail against the tide, where the rewards for CEOs can be more justified, a) in relation to wages of average earners (e.g. 40 times a $40k wage, or CEO pay maxing out at $1.6 million) and b) in comparison to what the shareholders obtain in returns.

So here we go. Below is a table of my star companies, entered in the Globe's WatchList to show some performance data. Note how all the companies have positive five year total stock returns - shareholders have made money in every case and in most cases have made a lot of money. Just as low cost funds give good investor returns, so do low-CEO-cost companies! They are all generating earnings and in all but one case, sport a healthy return on equity.

1) Ritchie Brothers Auctioneers - CEO Peter Blake earned $796,000 in 2005 going up to $1.1 million in 2010, a increase of about 1.4x. That salary is among the lowest on the TSX yet the company isn't the smallest by any means. Total shareholder returns from 2005 to 2010 can be seen in the graph and table below from the company's Management Information Circular for 2011 available from SEDAR. Ritchie has outdone the TSX by a big margin.

2) Keyera Corp - CEO James Bertram enjoyed pay of $1.4 million in 2010, up 1.3x from 2005. Meanwhile shareholder return climbed by an even higher multiple of 2.0x. This company pays a healthy and growing dividend. It has cranked out consistently rising profits since 2006 and the latest quarters continue the trend. Pretty darn good, to put it mildly.

3) First Majestic Silver - CEO Keith Neumeyer's $1.4 million pay packet in 2010 represents a 7.0x rise over 2005 pay. Mind you, at the end of 2010 he was also sitting on $6 million or so of value in uncashed in-the-money options. Shareholders still enjoyed a 7.2x return during the same 2005-2010 period.

4) Fairfax Financial - CEO Prem Watsa chooses not to be paid like other CEOs since he is also the company founder and controlling shareholder. Therefore I've replaced Watsa's pay with the next highest exec's, COO Bradley Martin - $1.2 million in 2010. He got $841k in 2005. That's up 1.5x. The 2005-2010 shareholder total return, shown in the graph below, outstripped that handily, up 3.2x. There's a decent and rising dividend too. Recent quarterly earnings have been hit hard but at least we know the CEO is suffering along with the rest of shareholders. As the Management Information Circular puts it: "Mr. Watsa’s compensation arrangements reflect his belief that as a controlling shareholder involved in the management of the company, his compensation should be closely linked to all shareholders; this close link is achieved by his “compensation”, beyond a fixed salary, coming only from his share ownership." Hear, hear.

5) Pembina Pipeline Corp - CEO Robert Michaleski pulled in $2.6 million in 2010, up 2.4x over the 2005 figure. Shareholders got more or less the same increase. Pembina pays a healthy dividend, which has been rising at a reasonable rate too. The pay level is starting to get high but includes no options. Instead it is about half in shares so the CEO's fortunes should continue to evolve more or less in line with those of shareholders.

6) Silver Wheaton Corp - CEO Peter Barnes's pay of $3.3 million was up 2.0x from 2008 to 2010 while shareholder returns were 4.9x. At the end of 2010, Barnes also held in-the-money options worth over $19 million and had exercised options during 2010 for a gain of $7.4 million. This company is not typical of other more mature companies as it was only launched in 2004, Barnes being one of the founders. During 2005 there was no actual salary paid to the CEO as management was compensated through a contract with another company, which is why I've compared only from 2008 onwards. Silver Wheaton has a lot more the allure of a situation where entrepreneurial founders have perhaps earned greater gains by creating true value ... or perhaps they have been lucky so far since the business model depends hugely on a high and/or rising price of silver.

7) SXC Health Solutions - CEO Mark Thierer made $3.7 million in 2010, a rise of 3.3x over 2005. Meanwhile shareowners in the same period made a far greater return of 8.2x. That's generally what investors would like to see! However, it's hard not to notice the extremely high P/E of 43, suggesting that shareholder returns are exposed to a possible drastic fall. For example, if the stock price fell by half to a high but more normal P/E just over 20, the shareholder return of 8.2/2 = 4.1 would still be as good as the CEO's. Seems fair enough. (The company has never paid dividends, so all the return is share price appreciation.) SXC has grown by leaps and bounds since its IPO in late 2005. Revenues rose from a mere $79 million in 2006 to $1936 million in 2010, with the biggest jump occurring in 2008 with a very large acquisition. Profits have been consistently rising though nowhere close to the same pace as revenue.

It is encouraging to see that at least a few companies have their CEO head screwed on right. The above companies are not the only ones so blessed, though others that fit into the mould are not numerous.

Addendum: a few more companies where CEO pay meets my criteria (2010 pay in brackets): Reitmans Canada ($1.5M), Aecon Group Inc ($1.5M), Inmet Mining ($1.6M), Russel Metals ($1.6M), ShawCor Lt ($2.2M), Laurentian Bank ($2.2M)

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