You won't find Gary Parsons and Hugh Panero, the top executives of XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc., on this year's list of Washington's highest paid executives, even though they made more money for their stockholders than most of the people on the list.

XM was the Washington region's best performing stock last year, worth almost 10 times as much at the end of the year as it was at the beginning, when investors were bailing out because it looked like XM might be headed for bankruptcy.

As the stock climbed to $26.69 a share from $2.69, and XM issued more than 38 million additional shares, the company's market capitalization -- the price of all its stock -- jumped to $3.3 billion from about $230 million, a gain for shareholders of more than $3 billion.

Parsons, the chairman of XM, took home a $250,000 salary and a $500,000 bonus last year. Panero, the president and chief executive, collected a $412,000 salary and an identical bonus. With cash compensation of $750,000 and $824,000 respectively, neither Parsons nor Panero made The Post's list of the 100 executives who earned the most cash last year working for public companies based in the District, Maryland and Virginia.

Nor did the two make the top 100 in total compensation for 2003 even though both got significant amounts of stock options -- 400,000 shares for Parsons, 350,000 for Panero. Their options were dispensed late in the year at $22 a share for stock now worth around $25.

Considering how well XM stock performed last year and how much the market value of the company increased, Parsons and Panero might be considered some of the most underpaid executives of the year.

But they were also in charge when the stock plunged from almost $46 a share in 2000 to less than $2 in 2003. It looked then like XM might run out of money before its satellite broadcasting business got off the ground.

The XM story exemplifies how quickly executives, like sports teams, can go from being bums to heroes. To shareholders who bought the stock when it was cheap, Parsons and Panero were underpaid last year. But tell that to investors who bought the stock when it was rocketing, watched it fall like a satellite flaming into the atmosphere and are holding stock that is still worth less than they paid for it.

Parsons' pay did sink along with XM stock. He took no salary in 2001 and 2002, collecting only bonuses based on internal performance criteria -- $425,000 the first year and $500,000 the second, when he took his salary in stock.

Thanks to the Securities and Exchange Commission, shareholders now get a long-term picture of how their stock is doing, which helps in evaluating executive pay. The stock's performance over the previous five years must be reported in the proxy statement that is sent to every shareholder in advance of the annual stockholders' meeting.

In the case of companies like XM, which haven't been public for five years, the report tracks performance since the IPO. XM's proxy shows that if you invested $100 in the stock when the company went public in October 1999, your investment had grown to $219 at the end of last year.

The SEC also dictates the simple disclosure of how much a $100 investment is worth after five years, which eliminates opportunities for obfuscation. That total return includes dividends, if there are any.

Where you find that little table in the annual meeting notice often tells you something itself. When it's buried in the back, there's usually a reason.

SLM Corp. puts its stock performance table right at the top of its proxy, reminding shareholders how well their investment in the nation's largest student-loan provider has done before they get to the eye-popping pay of chief executive Albert L. Lord. Lord ranks 13th in cash pay in The Post's survey for last year at $3.25 million and second in total compensation with a $41.7 million package, including the estimated value of the options he got last year.

As the prominently placed performance table shows, a $100 investment in SLM stock five years ago had grown to $258.70 by the end of last year. But lately things haven't run so smoothly. Last year the stock underperformed the market badly. The Washington Post Bloomberg regional stock index -- a benchmark for companies based in the District, Maryland and Virginia -- was up 33 percent. SLM stock gained slightly less than 9 percent, from $34.62 to $37.68.

The five-year performance table is also good to Danaher Corp., a local holding company for a group of manufacturing companies and one of the region's 20 largest companies by sales.

A $100 investment in Danaher five years ago grew to almost $170. The value created for shareholders also helps explain why H. Lawrence Culp Jr., president and chief executive, took home $3.4 million in cash last year and was far and away the region's top earner with a $57.5 million compensation package. Much of that is a long-term incentive stock plan that can't be cashed in until 2010.

Last year wasn't bad, either. Danaher's market capitalization grew by roughly $4 billion last year to $14 billion as the result of a 40 percent gain in the stock of the low-profile company.

The five-year performance table, on the other hand, does not reflect well on the highly paid executives of Fannie Mae, the District's biggest business based on its $69 billion stock market value.

Fannie Mae Chairman Franklin D. Raines took home a little more than $5 million in cash last year and earned $23.7 million in total compensation, including $11.6 million in long-term compensation.

Fannie Mae stock had a respectable year, up 17 percent, a big move for a company with a stock market value of around $69 billion.

But over the last five years, Fannie stockholders would have been better off putting their cash in a savings account. A $100 investment five years ago grew to $104 by Dec. 31, assuming you invested Fannie Mae's healthy dividends. The total return, even including generous dividends, is back to around zero now, because as of Friday the stock is down almost $4 a share for the year.

Along with Raines, four other Fannie Mae executives show up on the list of the 100 highest paid executives, pulling down pay of $1.2 million to $2 million in cash and $7.4 million to $11.9 million in total compensation.

"Fannie Mae's executive compensation philosophy is based upon pay for performance," the company said in a statement issued in response to questions about the issue.

"Performance is assessed against financial, mission and strategic goals," the statement said, ticking off a list of accomplishments, including doubling earnings per share over the past five years (from $3.23 to $7.91), a 68 percent increase in total business and helping provide affordable housing. Conspicuously absent from the lists are any mention of what Raines and Fannie have done for shareholders.

Fannie's stock was doing pretty well until Freddie Mac's accounting scandal two years ago, but since has been tarred by the sins of its twin, a spokesman noted.

But if Fannie Mae executives want to take credit for its impressive earnings and for boosting homeownership, they should also take some responsibility for their shareholders getting stiffed.

That's part of what "pay for performance" means.

2003 compensation for XM executives Hugh Panero, top, and Gary Parsons, below, was relatively modest.