Tags: Coca-Cola | stock | Buffett | pay

Coca-Cola Trims Stock Compensation Plan in Wake of Criticism

Wednesday, 01 October 2014 02:36 PM

Coca-Cola Co., whose employee stock-compensation plan was called excessive by billionaire Warren Buffett and other investors, said it would rein in the program.

Fewer shares will be issued to employees and more transparency will be provided into how the program works, the Atlanta-based company said today in a statement. The number of shares granted will be no more than 0.8 percent of total outstanding stock in 2015 and an average of 0.4 percent for the remainder of the plan.

Coca-Cola investor Wintergreen Advisers LLC, run by David Winters, railed against the compensation plan this year, calling it a “raw deal” for shareholders that was too generous and diluted the stock. Buffett, Coca-Cola’s largest shareholder, also spoke out against the program, though only after the plan passed. He abstained from voting on it at Coca-Cola’s annual meeting in April.

“Shareowner input on this important topic has directly led to the development of these new guidelines, which are in line with the long-term interests of shareowners,” Maria Elena Lagomasino, chairman of Coca-Cola’s compensation committee, said in today’s statement.

Winters said the move was an admission by Coca-Cola that the stock-compensation program was “outrageously excessive and inconsistent with past plans.” The beverage company still needs to do more to restore the trust of investors, he said.

Board ‘Backtracking’

“No amount of backtracking by the Coca-Cola board of directors can hide the fact that we believe it tried to sneak one by shareholders in Coca-Cola’s proxy materials and statements at the April shareholder meeting,” he said in an e- mailed statement.“Today’s statement by Coca-Cola only calls into question the competence and leadership of the board of directors and management.”

Coca-Cola declined to comment on Winters’s remarks. Buffett, meanwhile, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment sent to an assistant.

Coca-Cola shares fell 0.5 percent to $42.45 at 1:59 p.m. in New York. The stock had climbed 3.3 percent this year through yesterday, compared with a 12 percent gain for PepsiCo Inc. and a 6.7 percent advance for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

In April, Buffett said his loyalty to Coca-Cola prevented him from voting against the program, even though he didn’t approve of it.

“I could never vote against Coca-Cola, but I couldn’t vote for the plan either,” he said in an interview at the time. “That’s just the way I feel about the people there.”

Berkshire Stake

Wintergreen sold its stake in Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. after Buffett’s abstention. A regulatory filing in August showed the firm held no shares in Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire at the end of June. Wintergreen had held 1.2 million Class B shares of Berkshire on March 31, when the stake was valued at about $151 million.

“As a longtime shareholder of Berkshire, Mr. Buffett’s words and actions (or more aptly, inactions) regarding Coke’s 2014 equity plan did not sit well with us,” Winters said in August. “We no longer felt that Warren Buffett was looking out for his shareholders’ interests.”

Winters had said Coca-Cola’s equity plan, in addition to ones already enacted, could dilute shareholders by 16.6 percent and transfer $29.8 billion to managers. Coca-Cola had already granted long-term equity compensation to about 6,400 employees in 2013.

CEO’s Pay

The investor also criticized Coca-Cola Chief Executive Officer Muhtar Kent, saying he was paid excessively despite recent underperformance.

Coca-Cola disputed Wintergreen’s calculations, and Buffett said in May that he declined to join the investor’s campaign in part because he didn’t want to endorse assertions that were “wildly inaccurate.”

Coca-Cola said today that Buffett’s input was “very important,” without elaborating on how the talks occurred.

“We are grateful for discussions with him on this key investor issue,” Petro Kacur, a Coca-Cola spokesman, said in an e-mail. “It was the responsibility and action of the compensation committee, supported by the full board, to develop the guidelines. Mr. Buffett is fully supportive of the approach.”

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Coca-Cola, whose employee stock-compensation plan was called excessive by billionaire Warren Buffett and other investors, said it would rein in the program.
Coca-Cola, stock, Buffett, pay
Wednesday, 01 October 2014 02:36 PM
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