BOSTON (Reuters) - Total compensation for the chief executives of large U.S. companies is set to rise for 2015 despite volatile markets and lower revenue at many, such as in the energy sector, according to a study released on Monday.
Executive data firm Equilar found in its study that among the 100 largest U.S. companies by revenue that had filed proxy statements covering 2015 as of April 1, median total compensation rose by 3 percent to $14.5 million.
The results were somewhat surprising, said Equilar director of content Dan Marcec, since many investors expected corporate difficulties would often cut the pay of CEOs, whose compensation is increasingly tied to performance.
Instead, the use of measures like total shareholder returns drove up the pay in the sample, which in past years has tended to predict broader pay trends like those in the S&P 500 overall, Marcec said.
“This is like a bellwether,” Marcec said. When final pay data is available, he said, it is likely that “you will see that pay is on its way up.”
A good illustration of the trends came in the oil and gas industry, where low energy prices put many companies into financial difficulties.
Although all six oil and gas companies on its list had revenue declines of between 27 percent and 44 percent last year, Equilar said, only one reported CEO pay lower than in the prior year. That was ConocoPhillips,(COP.N) where CEO Ryan Lance received $16.9 million, 4 percent less than in 2014.
The company’s revenue fell 44 percent last year, and its total shareholder return was a negative 28 percent last year, Equilar said.
At Marathon Petroleum Corp,(MPC.N) where revenue fell 26 percent, total shareholder return was still 17 percent. CEO Gary Heminger received $17.4 million last year, 11 percent more than in 2014, Equilar found.
The highest-paid executives on Equilar’s list were the co-CEOs of Oracle Corp (ORCL.N), Mark Hurd and Safra Catz. Each received $53.2 million last year. Neither held the title the full prior year.
The biggest raise went to Emerson Electric Co’s (EMR.N) David Farr, who got $13.9 million last year, up 113 percent from the prior year.
Equilar’s figures excluded the value of executive pensions reported on company proxies, as values are often set by actuarial formulas rather than by compensation committee decisions.
Reporting by Ross Kerber in Boston; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli