The holidays may be especially sweet for an elite group of bank executives.
A recent study shows the value of company shares owned as of Jan. 1 by 14 top chief executive officers soared 42%, to $49.2 million, in the first nine months of the year.
The figure represents only paper profits-and has declined to about $34.7 million in the recent market selloff. But the gyrations in the potential personal fortunes of bank executives illustrate a general trend in executive compensation, said Rhonda Edelman, a consultant at Pearl Meyer & Partners, the New York firm that conducted the study.
"The endgame of all of this is that pay is very dependent on the stock market," Ms. Edelman said.
Pearl Meyer & Partners examined the beneficial stock ownership of chief executives at the nation's top 200 companies. The study looked at outright ownership, vested options, and unvested options.
Corporations have increasingly tied their top executives' compensation to the performance of their stock prices by granting stock options in lieu of cash compensation, consultants said.
These stock options have created a large group of chief executives who own sizable chunks of the stock in the companies they run, and who have benefited enormously from the decade's bull market, Ms. Edelman said.
Bank stocks did particularly well this year, bouyed by low inflation and a generally good economy, analysts said. The Standard & Poor's bank stock index rose 34% during the first nine months of the year.
Like bankers, top executives in general have seen growth in the value of their personal stock holdings outpace the market. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 27.8% from the beginning of January through the end of September.
The group of 200 executives in the Pearl Meyer study did better. At the beginning of the year the top corporate executives-including the bank group-were worth, on paper, an average of $39.1 million. By the end of September, the average had ballooned 46%, to $56.9 million.
Though bankers did not quite match the gains of the group of 200 as a whole, a couple of key executives saw dazzling returns.
John S. Reed, the chairman and chief executive of Citicorp, saw the value of his stock ownership in the bank jump 39.5% through September, from $162 million to $226 million. Mr. Reed owns outright more than one million shares of Citicorp and another one million in vested and unvested options.
Chase Manhattan Corp.'s chairman and chief executive, Walter V. Shipley, saw the value of his holdings leap 46.4%, from $62.8 million to $92 million through September. Mr. Shipley owns almost 250,000 shares and has another 770,000 in options.
But some observers said this could be the last hurrah for bankers, as a confluence of factors may dampen earnings performance and stock prices for the banking sector in the coming year.
"Bank executives are not going to get rich anymore," said Richard X. Bove, an analyst at Raymond James Associates. "Bank earnings are running out of steam, and 1998 is not likely to be a good year for the stocks."
Pearl Meyer & Partners calculated the paper loss to the executives if the market tumbled 25%. Bankers would, on average, lose 6% in the value of their holdings since January, ending up with $34.7 million each.
Mr. Reed's loss would be 4% from where he began the year, to $155 million. Mr. Shipley's would be 1%, to $61.9 million.
Paul Hazen, chief executive officer at Wells Fargo & Co., would stand to lose the most in a market nosedive. Mr. Hazen, whose holdings are mostly in the form of vested and unvested options, would see his value plummet 38.6%, from $54.9 million to $33.7 million.
Mr. Bove advised bankers to ask their boards to "get rid of the stock options and raise my salary."