Corporate earnings are in decline. The stock market is widely seen as running on fumes. Yet, at least among the executives of the largest companies in the U.S., something is looking up: their paychecks.
The median pay of top corporate executives in 2015 rose 3 percent, to $14.5 million, according to the executive compensation research firm Equilar. That beats the pay gain of the average nonsupervisory worker, which amounted to 2.1 percent last year.
Covering the top 100 publicly traded American companies by revenue, the data show a solid increase in CEO pay even as profits declined and stock returns wavered at the end of the year. Investors might have expected executive compensation to take a similar turn, as it did for Nick Woodman, CEO of camera company GoPro, whose compensation fell to less than $1 million in 2015 from $287 million in 2014.
But most CEOs weren’t so unlucky. “This is like a bellwether,” Dan Marcec, Equilar’s director of content, told Reuters. “Pay is on its way up.”
The results came amid increasing scrutiny of executive pay by regulators, shareholders and the broader public. Major corporations have faced a growing backlash among investors over corporate pay packages in recent years. Meanwhile, federal regulators have promulgated new rules designed to lock up bonuses at financial companies for an additional year to ensure that bosses take monetary hits in the event the firms falter.
The top-paid executives on the list, Oracle Co-CEOs Mark Hurd and Safra Catz, made $53 million apiece. But that total likely won’t pass muster with Oracle shareholders, who have voted down the company’s compensation package four times in the past.
The authors of the executive pay study pointed to the energy sector as evidence of an apparent divergence between corporate performance and compensation. Among the six oil and gas companies that made the list, each saw its revenue fall by at least 27 percent. But only one of those firms paid its CEO a lower salary in 2015 than it did in 2014.