An increase in median pay for S&P 500 CEOs of only 3.5% (from $11.2 million to $11.6 million) was heralded as an "all-time high" by the Wall Street Journal this week, which noted that total pay rose about 10% for half the executives in the study but slipped for about a quarter. Pay increases were primarily driven by strong company performance and a soaring stock market, reflecting the large proportion of CEO pay that is performance-based; cash pay was almost unchanged. An analysis of median CEO pay increase versus median shareholder return showed that as with previous years, company performance far outstripped CEO pay increases: median shareholder return for 2017 was 19.1% while the median CEO pay raise was 9.9%. The story noted that, consistent with recent trends, stock options declined as a share of long-term incentive packages and notably, the actuarial increase in the value of pension benefits was less of a factor.
The Wall Street Journal study included 133 S&P 500 companies with data released through March 16. Notably, the data did not include Tesla CEO Elon Musk's multi-billion dollar pay package, as Tesla is not an S&P 500 company. Shareholders recently approved a $2.6 billion dollar 10-year option grant for Musk, who does not receive a salary, cash bonuses or time-vested restricted stock at the company.