Disney pair sell share options

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The Independent Online
SENIOR EXECUTIVES of the Walt Disney Company have sold share options equivalent to 1 per cent of the company's total value, blaming impending changes in US tax rates that would have cost Disney shareholders an additional dollars 90m if they waited until next year to cash in.

But some compensation analysts suggest other factors, including disappointing results from Euro Disney, may have been behind the decision on Tuesday by the executives to exercise and then sell dollars 200m worth of Disney stock options.

Michael Eisner, Disney's chief executive, and Frank Wells, its president, cashed in all the 6.6 million stock options they were awarded when they took the helm of the studio in 1984, paying the pre-agreed price of dollars 3.60. They then sold 5.1 million of the shares for dollars 40 apiece, realising a profit of about dollars 186m.

Mr Eisner explained that under changes proposed by US President-elect Bill Clinton, the company would be taxed for the profit he and Mr Wells realised in exercising the options. Current law allows corporations to deduct all executive compensation from their taxes, but Mr Clinton has suggested limiting the deduction to dollars 1m per employee.

'It became evident that now was the time to exercise those options,' Mr Eisner said.

Many executives are expected to follow suit, exercising options before next year to allow their companies to claim the full deduction. But analysts question the Disney executives' decision to sell their new shares immediately, noting that others are holding on to the shares, realising personal capital gains rather than selling and thus increasing their income-tax liability.

While income taxes for the wealthy are expected to rise next year, capital gains taxes are likely to decline, if anything.

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