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Silly season at Manpower, McDermott & more…

The 10-Ks have slowed to a trickle, and the proxies are flowing in earnest. In them are plenty of revelations about the perks and little luxuries that companies shower on their top brass. If you need no other sign that the tepid economic recovery so far has been good news for executives, the prevalence of these gold-plated extras should do the trick.

For one thing, we’re seeing the “perk allowance” revive itself. These go by various names — executive allowance, perquisite allowance, perquisite stipend — but it’s all the same: Extra dollops of cash that some companies bestow on their bosses so that they can buy the goods and services they don’t want to spend their salaries on.

According to an 8-K it filed yesterday, McDermott International (MDR) set its perquisite allowance — a benefit that appears to have been first implemented in February last year — at $20,000 for 2012. Universal Forest Products (UFPI) is in the running for the most creative euphemism for this perk, used in the proxy it filed yesterday: “convenience allowance.” The company doesn’t quantify it (or the “clothing allowance” executives also get), but does describe it as “a limited taxable convenience allowance which they may use for household management, health and well being, and similar expenses. Sure sounds like salary to us, but what do we know?

Treehouse Foods (THS) gave its chief executive, Sam K. Reed, an allowance of $25,000, and other execs either $10,000 or $15,000 apiece “in lieu of various specific executive benefits such as automobile plans, financial planning consulting or club fees,” according to the proxy Treehouse filed yesterday. In explanation, the company explains:

“This approach reduces the administrative burden of such programs and satisfies the desire to target market practices. These allowances are not included as eligible compensation for bonus or other purposes, and do not represent a significant portion of the executive’s total compensation.”

Of course, given the insignificance of the amounts, letting the executives pay for it with their salaries would be even less of an administrative burden, but never mind. Moreover, despite all this efficiency, the company separately lets its CEO use the corporate jet for personal flights, “subject to availability” — which must be more than infrequently, because Reed benefited to the tune of $131,232 last year.

Most of this little stuff is, of course, buried in footnotes, though some companies have the decency to break it out into easy-to-read tables. But Manpower (MAN) surely deserves some kind of award for extra obfuscation. Describing the $849,887 in “other compensation” paid to Executive Vice President Darryl Green, the company provides a footnote to a table in the footnotes to the compensation table (got that?) in Manpower’s preliminary proxy. The disclosure at first appears to give some nice round numbers for a housing allowance ($90,000), tuition allowance for Green’s children ($40,000), and car allowance ($18,720) for Green, who’s based in Japan.

But it turns out those figures use an exchange rate that was in place five years ago, when Green signed his contract. In fact, the actual cost to Manpower is deeper into that 200-word footnote-to-a-table-in-a-footnote: $139,051 for the housing allowance, $61,794 for the tuition, and $28,923 for the car. At a total of $229,768, that’s half-again as much as the first set of numbers readers are likely to notice (which add up to $148,720). Then there are his other perks, which don’t get the same treatment, for some reason: $33,673 to fly his family back to the U.S. once during the year, and $55,914 in relocation expenses.

Frankly, all this talk about allowances in the filings makes us wonder whether corporate boards are overseeing major publicly traded companies or a house full of teenagers. Maybe if performance lags at any of these companies — and at Manpower, it already has — the boards can try sending their executives to bed without dinner. Or just suspending their allowances.

Image source: Portrait of a surprised little boy via Shutterstock.com

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