While this conclusion is logical in cases of options backdating in which executives knowingly participated in the criminal actions, options backdating can be a result of normal accounting or corporate policies that are not criminal in nature, and is a legal practice as long as the backdated contract is appropriately reported for tax purposes.
Academic researchers had long been aware of the pattern, exhibited by some companies, of share prices rising dramatically in the days following grants of stock options to senior management.
If a company grants options on June 1 (when the stock price is 0), but backdates the options to May 15 (when the price was ) in order to make the option grants more favorable to the grantees, the fact remains that the grants were actually made on June 1, and if the exercise price of the granted options is , not 0, it is below fair market value.
Thus, backdating can be misleading to shareholders in the sense that it results in option grants that are more favorable than the shareholders approved in adopting the stock option plan.
This is a way of repricing options to make them valuable or more valuable when the option "strike price" (the fixed price at which the owner of the option can purchase stock) is fixed to the stock price at the date the option was granted.
Options backdating may still occur under the new reporting regulations, but Sarbanes-Oxley compliant backdating is far less likely to be used for dishonest reasons due to the short time frame that is allowed for reporting.
As a result, numerous companies are conducting internal investigations to determine if, when, and how backdating occurred, and are filing amended earnings statements and tax forms to show the issuance of “in the money” options in place of the “at the money” options that were previously reported.
For instance, public companies generally grant stock options in accordance with a formal stock option plan approved by shareholders at an annual meeting.
Many companies' stock option plans provide that stock options must be granted at an exercise price no lower than fair market value on the date of the option grant.