Many know that the Section 162(m) deduction limit for performance-based compensation has been repealed by the recent tax legislation together with implementation of other changes, effective for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017, subject to transition relief. This leaves the question about what to say about Section 162(m) during the upcoming proxy season. Below are some examples from recent proxy statements:
The cash bonuses paid and equity-based awards granted to executive officers under the MIP are intended to be fully deductible under section 162(m). In addition, the Company has adopted a policy that equity-based awards granted to its executive officers should generally be made pursuant to plans that are intended to satisfy the requirements of section 162(m). However, the Compensation Committee retains discretion and flexibility in developing appropriate compensation programs and establishing compensation levels and, to the extent consistent with the Company’s compensation philosophy, may approve compensation that is not fully deductible. Also, legislation recently signed into law would expand somewhat the number of individuals covered by section 162(m) and eliminate the exception for performance-based compensation effective for our 2018 tax year.
The Compensation Committee believes that the use of a strict formula-based program for annual awards could have inadvertent consequences such as encouraging the NEOs to focus on the achievement of one specific metric to the detriment of other metrics. In addition, tying compensation to a strict formula would not allow for adjustments based on issues beyond the control of the NEOs. The Compensation Committee recognizes that each NEO other than the CEO (each, a “Senior Executive”) may be most able to directly influence the business unit for which he or she is responsible and therefore believes it is appropriate to use negative discretion to adjust annual awards for each such Senior Executive to take into account the achievement of objectives that are directly tied to the growth and development of their respective business unit. Furthermore, with respect to our overall executive compensation program, the use of discretion provides the Compensation Committee with the flexibility to compensate our NEOs for truly exceptional performance without paying more than is necessary to incent and retain them while structuring awards to be potentially deductible as performance-based compensation under Section 162(m) of the Code, when appropriate. However, as discussed below under “Tax Considerations,” while the tax law included an exception to the $1 million limit on deductibility for “performance-based” compensation under Section 162(m) of the Code when the Compensation Committee made its fiscal year 2017 compensation decisions, this exception was repealed.
At the beginning of fiscal year 2017, the Compensation Committee approved a maximum KEIP award amount for each NEO, other than Mr. Sethi, who became an NEO at the end of fiscal year 2017. The maximum award that each NEO is eligible to receive, however, is not an expectation of the actual bonus that will be paid to him or her, but a cap on the range ($0 to the maximum amount) that an individual may be paid while maintaining the tax deductibility of the bonus as “performance-based” compensation for purposes of Section 162(m) of the Code. See “Tax Considerations” below for a brief discussion of the “performance-based” compensation exception under Section 162(m) of the Code and its repeal. As described above in our “Compensation Philosophy,” the Compensation Committee has historically exercised negative discretion to pay significantly less than the maximum amount available to the NEOs under the KEIP award pool based on its evaluation of the achievement of business unit, Company-wide and individual performance measures for such NEOs, as described above in this CD&A.
In evaluating compensation program alternatives, the Compensation Committee considered the potential impact on the Company of Section 162(m) of the Code. Section 162(m) limited to $1 million the amount that a publicly traded corporation, such as the Company, may deduct for compensation paid in any year to its chief executive officer and certain other named executive officers (“covered employees”). At the time the Compensation Committee made its compensation decisions, the tax law provided that compensation which qualified as “performance-based” was excluded from the $1 million per covered employee limit if, among other requirements, the compensation was payable only upon attainment of pre-established, objective performance goals under a plan approved by our stockholders. However, this exception was repealed in the tax reform legislation signed into law on December 22, 2017. As a result, it is uncertain whether compensation that the Compensation Committee intended to structure as performance-based compensation under Section 162(m) will be deductible.
As a general matter, in making its previous NEO compensation decisions, the Compensation Committee endeavored to maximize deductibility of compensation under Section 162(m) to the extent practicable while maintaining competitive compensation. The Compensation Committee, however, believes that it is important for it to retain maximum flexibility in designing compensation programs that are in the best interests of the Company and its stockholders.
Salaries are deductible, except for the portion of the CEO’s salary in excess of $1 million. The Compensation Committee designs the ACIP and equity awards, including RSUs that have a financial performance threshold, to comply with the requirements for tax deductibility under Internal Revenue Code Section 162(m) (Section 162(m)), to the extent practicable. The Compensation Committee considers tax reform enacted under the Internal Revenue Code on an annual basis when designing the compensation programs.
To maximize tax deductibility, amounts earned under the ACIP are designed to qualify as performance-based compensation under Section 162(m). This design provides that if certain financial objectives are met, our executive officers may receive up to 2x their target amounts, subject to the Compensation Committee’s negative discretion to pay any amount less than the maximum.
RSUs generally vest in equal annual installments over three years. The RSUs also include a requirement that the Company must meet an adjusted GAAP operating income target (over a 6-month period) in order for them to vest, which is intended to qualify the RSUs for tax deductibility under Section 162(m).
Section 162(m) of the Internal Revenue Code generally places a $1 million limit on the amount of compensation a company can deduct in any one year for certain executive officers. While the Compensation Committee considers the deductibility of awards as one factor in determining executive compensation, the Compensation Committee also looks at other factors in making its decisions, as noted above, and retains the flexibility to award compensation that it determines to be consistent with the goals of our executive compensation program even if the awards are not deductible by Apple for tax purposes.
The 2017 annual cash incentive opportunities and performance-based RSU awards granted to our executive officers were designed in a manner intended to be exempt from the deduction limitation of Section 162(m) because they are paid based on the achievement of pre-determined performance goals established by the Compensation Committee pursuant to our shareholder-approved equity incentive plan. In addition, the portion of Mr. Cook’s 2011 RSU Award subject to performance criteria with measurement periods that begin after the June 21, 2013 modification was designed in a manner intended to be exempt from the deduction limitation of Section 162(m).
Base salary and RSU awards with only time-based vesting requirements, which represent a portion of the equity awards granted to our executive officers, are not exempt from Section 162(m), and therefore will not be deductible to the extent the $1 million limit of Section 162(m) is exceeded.
The exemption from Section 162(m)’s deduction limit for performance-based compensation has been repealed, effective for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017, such that compensation paid to our covered executive officers in excess of $1 million will not be deductible unless it qualifies for transition relief applicable to certain arrangements in place as of November 2, 2017.
Despite the Compensation Committee’s efforts to structure the executive team annual cash incentives and performance-based RSUs in a manner intended to be exempt from Section 162(m) and therefore not subject to its deduction limits, because of ambiguities and uncertainties as to the application and interpretation of Section 162(m) and the regulations issued thereunder, including the uncertain scope of the transition relief under the legislation repealing Section 162(m)’s exemption from the deduction limit, no assurance can be given that compensation intended to satisfy the requirements for exemption from Section 162(m) in fact will. Further, the Compensation Committee reserves the right to modify compensation that was initially intended to be exempt from Section 162(m) if it determines that such modifications are consistent with Apple’s business needs.