The private-sector panel that sets U.S. accounting rules voted 7 to 0 today to change how stock options are recorded in corporate books.
The Financial Accounting Standards Board plans to develop new options-accounting rules within a year.
The latest push to alter options accounting began after scandals at Enron Corp. and other companies in which inflated earnings helped executives collect millions of dollars in stock-option profits. More than 150 U.S. companies, including Coca-Cola Co. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., decided to treat options as a salary cost while many companies, especially technology firms, argued that stock options can't be accurately valued.
FASB Chairman Robert H. Herz, while acknowledging that methods of determining the value of options remain open to debate, has argued that treating options as a salary expense gives a more honest view of a company's finances. "We heard impassioned pleas from both sides," Herz said after today's vote. "But the investing world will be better for this."
Stock options give employees the right to buy shares in their company for a set price in the future. Current accounting rules allow companies to estimate the cost of options in footnotes to their financial statements rather than recognizing them as a cost on their income statements.
An attempt by the FASB in 1995 to change options accounting was defeated by pressure from Congress, led by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), who threatened to strip the board of its rulemaking powers if it imposed the change.