RiskMetrics Group just announced that its Research Group is allowing companies some flexibility in their burn rate commitments for 2010. Companies that have a 3-year average burn rate that exceeds their GICS industry group cap must either publicly commit to maintaining their burn rate for the next three years at the burn rate cap for their GICS industry group as determined by RiskMetrics for that year or face a negative vote recommendation on their equity compensation plan proposals from RiskMetrics.
Some of the approaches that RiskMetrics’ Research Group has found acceptable include:
- Committing to the average between the 2009 and the 2010 RiskMetrics burn rate caps,
- Committing to the average between the 2010 and the 2011 RiskMetrics burn rate caps, and
- Committing to the 2010 cap for one year, the 2011 cap for one year, and the 2012 cap for the last year.
As a result of the significant declines in the RiskMetrics Burn Rate Caps for 2010 (discussed here), RiskMetrics had little choice other than to work with companies on this issue. I’ve spoken to companies that were willing to let RiskMetrics recommend against their plans as a result of this policy and would then discuss with their shareholders how inflexible RiskMetrics was being on this issue given the dramatic shift in burn rate caps. It sounds like RiskMetrics’ Research Group heard this message and decided that some flexibility was warranted.
I think this will make the commitment a little easier for companies to swallow, but the last two options do present their own concerns. Yes, equity grants (# of awards granted) probably increased on average for 2009. Yes, that data was not included in the burn rate caps that RiskMetrics came out with for 2010. Yes, when those 2009 grants get factored into the 2011 burn rate caps, the caps will likely rise from where they sit for 2010. But by how much and to where exactly? Good questions, with not very good answers at this time. Hence, the last two options are a little less certain for companies but offer an opportunity for an increase in the rate a company commits to, but the exact extent of it will be unknown until subsequent years, but they should be better than simply committing to the 2010 burn rate caps.