Fair value employee share options
Share options give the holder the right to buy the underlying shares at a set price, called the ‘exercise price’, over or at the end of an agreed period. If the share price exceeds the option’s exercise price when the option is exercised, then the holder of the option profits by the amount of the excess of the share price over the exercise price. Benefit is derived from the right under the option to buy a share for less than its value.
The holder’s cost is the exercise price, whereas the value is the share price. It is not necessary for the holder to sell the share for this profit to exist. Sale only results in realisation of the profit. Because an option holder’s profit increases as the underlying share price increases, share options are used to incentivise employees to contribute to an increase in the price of the underlying shares.
Employee options are typically call options, which give holders the right but not the obligation to buy shares. However, other types of options are also traded in markets. For example, put options give holders the right to sell the underlying shares at an agreed price for a set period.
Given that holders of put options profit when share prices fall below the exercise price, such options are not viewed as aligning the interests of employees and shareholders. All references in this section to ‘share options’ are to employee call options.
Share options granted by entities often cannot be valued with reference to market prices. Many entities, even those whose shares are quoted publicly, do not have options traded on their shares. Options that trade on recognised exchanges such as the Chicago Board Options Exchange are created by market participants and are not issued by entities directly.
Even when there are exchange-traded options on an entity’s shares for which prices are available, the terms and conditions of these options are generally different from the terms and conditions of options issued by entities in share-based payments and, as a result, the prices of such traded options cannot be used directly to value share options issued in a share-based payment.