Man of steel gains as Nucor stockholders languish…

March 22, 2012

Let’s hear it for the corporate boss who gets a 20% raise — or maybe 88%, depending how you count — when his company lost shareholders 6.4% for the year, saw returns trail the S&P 500 by 8.5 percentage points, and has seen returns trail its industry by 12 points over the last three years.

This man of steel — whose compensation can withstand the slings and arrows of muddled performance — is none other than the chairman and chief executive of steelmaker Nucor (NUE), Daniel R. DiMicco. According to the proxy filed this morning, DiMicco’s total compensation rose to $8.1 million for 2011, from $6.8 million in 2010. The biggest chunk of that change came from his cash bonus, which rose to $1.5 million from $540,000.

That’s using the standard compensation calculation required by the Securities and Exchange Commission. But like many companies chafing at the comp-disclosure bit, Nucor offers an “alternative” calculus — and one that is even more eye-opening: By Nucor’s measure, DiMicco’s 2011 pay rose a whopping 88% over the prior year, to $5.3 million from $2.8 million. (The chief difference between the two measures is that the “alternative” attempts to exclude “compensation that may possibly be earned but is not guaranteed” by ignoring options and reducing the stock-award value by some voodoo the company doesn’t explain very clearly.)

Shareholders, meantime, would have done better to invest in just about any major stock index during 2011 (the period covered by the proxy). The one place shareholders would have done worse, on a total-return basis, is the rest of the steel industry, and we do have to give Nucor some credit here. Nucor outstripped the steel industry by 28 points in 2011, after trailing it by 9 points in 2010 and by 107 points in 2009. DiMicco has run the company since 2000, and has been chairman since 2006; looking over the past three, five and 10 years, the company’s total return has trailed the steel industry’s by between 5 and 12 percentage points, and the S&P 500 by even more.

The most amusing thing about the Nucor proxy — at least to someone whose lack of a stake in the company lets any of this be amusing — is this line from the text accompanying the alternative pay accounting table at the bottom of page 31:

“As expected, based on our 2011 performance, total compensation earned by our CEO increased over the prior year but remained significantly lower than the peak earned in 2006.”

That’s good to know, but — even by the company’s custom calculation — it’s still 88% over 2010, triple what it was in 2009, and 3.9% higher than it was in 2008. Given the company’s performance over that time period, we’re not all that impressed.

Image source: 3d businessman with an umbrella via Shutterstock.com

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