Employee Stock Options: A Binomial Approach Using Microsoft
Joseph A. D’Urso
JULY 2005 - There
has been substantial controversy ever since FASB first proposed
the expensing of employee stock options. Part of the controversy
is attributable to disagreement over how options should be
valued. Historically, Wall Street has valued options using
models such as Black-Scholes. Such models are primarily applicable
to short-term publicly traded options, however, and may not
be the best approach to valuing employee stock options, which
tend to be longer term, nontransferable, and subject to various
vesting requirements and forfeiture rules.
recently discussed alternative endorsed by the current FASB
proposal is the use of a “lattice” binomial
model which takes into consideration those characteristics
associated with employee stock options. It can be tailored
to a company granting such options. This article will attempt
to demonstrate such a model using simple formulas in an
Excel spreadsheet, which can be downloaded from www.cpajournal.com/down.htm.
The author’s purpose is not to present the most comprehensive
approach, but rather to provide food for thought to individuals
considering an alternative method for valuing their company’s
employee stock options.
a business, Example Company, with the following characteristics
of its employee stock option plan:
price of stock $6.00
Exercise price $6.00
Option term 5
first step in the valuation process is to create a standard
(i.e., not modified) binomial model. The Cox, Ross, and
Rubinstein (CRR) model is easy to construct and is probably
the most widely accepted and popular binomial model. For
those interested in the theory behind the model, there are
numerous books and articles on the subject, including Cox,
Ross, and Rubinstein’s original 1979 paper, “Option
Pricing: A Simplified Approach,” published in the
Journal of Financial Economics. This author’s
approach to creating CRR models is similar to that found
in Financial Modeling Using Excel and VBA, by Chandan
Sengupta (Wiley, 2004).
set up the CRR model in Microsoft Excel, enter the data
as shown in Exhibit 1, cells A7 to B12. Then, enter the
labels as shown in cells A16 to A21. Finally, enter the
following formulas in the corresponding cells:
the formulas are entered correctly, the data range from
B17 to B21 should match that shown in Exhibit
next step is to highlight the range A17 to B21, then select
the menu item Insert>Name>Create and click the “left
column” box. Follow the same steps with the range
A8 to B8. This will assign a name to these cells, making
it easier to copy formulas and set up the binomial trees.
Moreover, it will allow the formulas to be self-explanatory,
as these descriptive names will be used in the formulas
instead of the usual cell references.
next step is to set up a “stock price tree.”
In accordance with binomial theory, the stock price tree
will generate various stock prices (i.e., up and down prices
at each step) over the life of the option. (The completed
stock price tree is shown in Exhibit 1.)
order to generate the stock price tree, enter the “Step
0–5” labels in cells A28 to G28, and the “Time”
label in cell A29. In cell B29, enter the formula “=B28*Time_interval”
and copy it across to cell G29. This step is simple in this
example, but it becomes important when generating larger
trees where the year is divided into many shorter intervals.
In cell A31, type the label “Stock Price” and
in cell B31 enter “=B7”. In cell C31, enter
the formula “=B31*Up_movement” and copy it across
to cell G31. In cell C32, enter the formula “=B31*Down_movement”
and copy it across to cell G32. Next, copy cell D32 down
one row, copy cell E32 down two rows, and so forth, so that
a triangular tree is generated.
third step is to construct the “option tree,”
following a process known as “backward induction,”
which starts at the end of the tree (i.e., at expiration)
and works back to the present time. At expiration, a stock
option is equal to the greater of its intrinsic value (the
market price of the stock at expiration, less the exercise
price) or zero; an option can’t have a negative value.
To reflect this, enter the formula “=MAX(0,(G31-Exercise_price))”
in cell G40, then copy it down to cell G45. According to
binomial theory, the amounts in the prior steps represent
the discounted expected value of the future upper and lower
option values. To reflect this, in cell B40 enter the formula
and copy it across to cell F40. Finally, copy cell C40 down
one row, copy cell D40 down two rows, and so forth, so that
a triangular tree is generated.
end result is a standard binomial model that can be tailored
to any company. The model can be validated through a comparison
to the Black-Scholes model; the more steps that are utilized,
the closer the results should approximate the Black-Scholes
model. In this example, it turns out that the Black-Scholes
model happens to yield exactly the same amount ($1.21).
final step is to now modify the model to fit a specific
company. Continuing with the example above, the two-year
cliff vesting assumption and the company’s past exercise
history must be considered. Assume that during the last
five years of stock option exercises, employees have exercised
their options, on average, when the market price exceeded
their exercise price by 10%. Thus, it is assumed that the
employees will exercise their options as soon as the market
price factor (i.e., the current price divided by the exercise
price) exceeds 1.10. Employees can only exercise their options,
however, once they are vested.
factors can be integrated as follows. First, the exercise
factor (1.10) should be input in cell B13. The minimum market
price that will trigger the option to be exercised can be
calculated by inserting the formula “=B13*Exercise_price”.
These cells have been inserted into the spreadsheet as shown
E represents the first year that employees are vested and
free to exercise their options. The formula with “=IF(E31>Minimum_mkt_price,
should be inserted in cell E40. This formula tests whether
the stock will be exercised, and if it will, the intrinsic
value is inserted into the cell. Copy this formula across
into cell F40. Then, copy cell E40 down to cell E43 and
copy cell F40 down to cell F44. The resulting option tree
for the final modified binomial model should match that
shown in Exhibit 2.
is interesting to note that although the upper year-one
market price from the stock price tree of $6.63 exceeds
the minimum price of $6.60, the model does not treat the
option as exercised because it is not yet vested. Note that
after considering the low “exercise factor”
and vesting rules, the option price has dropped from $1.21
to $0.88: a reduction of 27%. This is the main advantage
of using this type of model: Vesting rules and past employee
practices can easily be factored in.
the example above has been kept simple for demonstration
purposes, the CRR binomial model can be modified to conform
to a specific company’s exercise history and vesting
requirements. The formulas can be expanded and edited within
the Excel spreadsheet.
A. D’Urso, CPA, CMA, CFM, is director of accounting
at a publicly held biotechnology company in Princeton, N.J.