Dell to benefit from stock options change

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Dell has moved forward the date employees will be able to cash in “out of the money” stock options awarded as part of their compensation plans – a move that should boost the company’s bottom line in 2007.

The world’s biggest personal computer maker is the latest technology company company to move up the “vesting” date on which employees can cash in stock options whose value is greater than $30.75, the stock’s closing price on Thursday, January 5.

The move will reduce the cost of accounting for options awarded as part of employee compensation plans.

Under new accounting rules that came into effect in July, companies are required to account for unvested options as an expense in their earnings reports.

Dell usually requires employees to wait five years before their options vest. Out of the money options accounted for just under 30 per cent of the total options awarded to employees, the company said.

Hundreds of companies, including Silicon Valley stalwarts such as Sun Microsystems and Advanced Micro Devices MD, have made similar moves to accelerate the vesting of stock options in recent months.

Dell said Friday’s move would reduce its stock options expense for the 2007 fiscal year to $250m, or 10 cents a share, from about $450m, or 18 cents a share.

Analysts expect Dell to earn about $1.77 a share in 2007.

Dell said that in addition to moving up the vesting date of out-of-the-money options, the company had been reducing the number of options awarded to employees as compensation.

Dell’s shares fell 0.9 per cent to $30.48 by mid-day in New York.

A string of lacklustre results and concerns that rivals may be catching up to the company have pushed Dell’s share price down about 25 per cent over the past 12 months.

Pat McConnell, analyst at Bear Stearns, said in a research report in November that moving up their vesting dates had helped companies trim about $4bn of stock options expenses from future income statements.

IT companies accounted for about 35 per cent of more than 400 companies that had moved up their vesting dates, according to Mr McConnell.

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