Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Risk-free company stock options

I promise to post something relevant to people beyond me soon, but for today, I'm untangling an interesting stock plan my new (I've been here a year; I'm sure it will eventually stop feeling like my "new" job) company offers: Sharesave. This appears to be a UK thing, which makes sense because somewhere up the food chain my company is actually British. (It's such a typical modern-conglomeration thing ... my magazine is published by a Long Island-based tech publishing company that I think has been sold fortybazillion times, and is currently owned by an even bigger publishing company. In London.)

Anyway, the way this scheme works is: I nominate an after-tax amount to be pulled each month out of my paychecks. I pick a contract term, either three years or five. During that time, my nominated amount is pulled from my paychecks each month and put into a savings account. At the end of the contract term, I have the option to convert my savings to company shares, purchased at a discounted rate fixed at the start of the contract. For the contract term opening now, the fixed price is $12.55, a 20 percent discount to the company's trading share price on the official offer date. (I would mention what the actual share price is today, but I honestly can't figure it out. Whatever currency it's being quoted in doesn't seem to be pounds. What on earth does the London Stock Exchange use?)

The neat thing about this is that it's zero-risk. If my company shares are underwater (meaning that at the end of the contract in three years, they're trading below my $12.55 option price), I'm not obligated to roll my savings into stock. I get it back, plus interest. So, I get to take advantage of the upside if the share price rises, but I'm not gambling my savings if it doesn't.

Which pleases me greatly. My company seems to be a nice healthy company, but I've seen the Enron documentary a few too many times to be willing to sink my savings, or my 401k, or basically any actual cash money, into company stock.

I'm tossing about $100 a month into the Sharesave jackpot. It'll be the first formal savings thing I've set up outside my 401k -- overdue, I know. Check back in June 2010 to see if it's made me rich ...