SYNOPSIS

We study equity price reactions to compensation contracting in experimental markets. Motivated by research reporting positive price reactions to adoption of performance-based compensation plans for executive managers, but postulating competing reasons as to why, we design an experiment that allows us to manipulate variables separately to examine the effect of adverse selection and moral hazard on equity prices. We find that managers select contracts based on their private information, sometimes differing from predicted choices, and that private information is conveyed to the market by the choice of compensation contract and is reflected in stock prices. We refer to this as the sorting effect. Additionally, we find that managers do not always exert costly effort in spite of favorable incentives to do so. The design also allows us to assess if the market rationally prices managers' actual choices. We find market prices are consistent with the empirically observed manager choices. Our results imply that to properly assess the impact of compensation plan on market prices, the sorting, as well as the incentive effects of compensation contracts, should be considered, and that the market anticipates errors in managers' choices.

JEL Classifications: C92; D82; G12; J33; M52.

Data Availability: Available upon request.

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