Management teams in companies never miss the opportunity to attribute blame for bad performance to factors other than their own doing. Equally quickly, they grab every opportunity to claim the good results as being due to their own genius.
This year gold acquired a new shine, thanks largely to the political developments in Europe. And, as rising tides do, all the gold mining boats have been floating along nicely.
Then come the remuneration committees who rely heavily on highly-paid consultants, who design complex remuneration schemes that are largely beyond the grasp of many of the board members.
This week Gold Fields, which operates the world’s deepest mine (South Deep), granted share incentives to a host of its directors on apparently generous terms.
The incentive share awards were granted in the wake of the gold-price-inflating British referendum to leave the European Union, which sent investors rushing to embrace the metal. The strike price was pushed back to the share’s price in May, before the Brexit decision -R62.96/share.
That had the effect of giving the five executives, including CFO Paul Schmidt, an effective R21 discount on the market price.
Sven Lunsche, GoldField’s vice-president for corporate affairs, says the remuneration policy sets out how these figures were arrived at -namely, it was based on the volume weighted average price for the three days prior to the awarding of the shares on the last day of March.
Lunsche says these kind of awards are “actually just below the medium of the other packages displayed on the page, particularly if you keep in mind that these directors only cash in on the difference between the share prices over a three year period”. He adds that if the return is positive, they are also taxed at the top marginal rate.
Schmidt was awarded options on 171 619 shares, worth R10.8m. Four of his colleagues were granted a combined R12m in share options. They will have to wait three years for the options to vest to them.
Last year Schmidt was paid a total package of $1.76m (R25m in today’s money).
So what must the Gold Fields executives do to earn these riches?
There were two incentive schemes: performance shares conditionally awarded based on industry norms, and a scheme based on Gold Fields’ own operational and financial performance.
On the first one, performance will be measured against that of 10 other major gold-mining companies. The Gold Fields share price will be compared to the basket of respective US dollar share prices of the peer group of companies.
Effectively, you look at the share prices of your competitors, as well as the price of the metal, and in most cases, you end up smiling all the way to the bank. In a weak rand environment, in a near junk-rated economy, it looks even better for recipients.
For the other scheme, Gold Fields says half of the performance criteria will be based on total shareholder returns while the balance will be awarded based on free cash flow.
So how did Gold Fields fare against its SA peers in the recent wave of gold optimism?
Since January, Gold Fields shares have jumped 81%. That’s not bad, especially when looked at in isolation. But things change somewhat when competitors come into the picture.
Harmony Gold’s stock rose from R15 in January to the current R55, while that of Sibanye Gold jumped from R23 to R58 now. AngloGold Ashanti’s shares doubled in value to R240.
But there’s at least one thing Gold Fields investors can gloat about: they pay their executives the best wages in the industry. CE Nick Holland took home a total package of $2.6m while AngloGold’s CE, Srinivasan Venkatakrishnan, was paid $1.9m last year. AngloGold CFO Christine Ramon (Schmidt’s opposite number) took home only $1m.