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CEOs' wallets are turning into one of the biggest winners from the rising stock market, with the top 10 payouts hitting a record $4.7 billion, and they're likely to get even fatter next year.
By cashing in lucrative stock options they got when stocks were beat up, CEOs saw their total 2012 "realized" pay jump by a median 8.5%, according to a comprehensive look at money paid to 2,259 CEOs who have served at least the last two years to be released by GMI Ratings Tuesday. The number includes base salary paid to CEOs, in addition to the value of options granted in previous years that CEOs sold in 2012.
CEO pay measured this way jumped for the third straight year, following double-digit percentage gains in 2010 and 2011, GMI found.
(Read more: SEC to CEOs: Show your pay: Report)
This massive payback may just be a taste of the payouts coming next year, as options soar even more with the Standard & Poor's 500 up more than 20% this year. CEOs' giant 2012 pay also comes even as regulators look to implement more rules called for by the Dodd-Frank law to attempt to reign in skyrocketing CEO pay.
"The numbers have gone completely over the top," says Eleanor Bloxham of The Value Alliance. "Boards of directors risk political backlash when they can contribute to these levels of inequity."
(Slideshow: Highest Paid CEOs)
This in-depth look at CEO pay reveals some interesting insights, including:
•Record-breaking paychecks. The total of the top 10 biggest CEO payouts in the analysis hit $4.7 billion, the largest total ever recorded by GMI. And for the first time, all of the top 10 biggest payouts were valued at $100 million or more. "Now that the stock market is doing well, you're seeing executives cashing in stock options and maximizing those awards," says Greg Ruel, senior research consultant at GMI.
•Massive $1 billion windfalls for individuals. Facebook may still be trying to prove itself as a lasting company, but CEO Mark Zuckerberg has already pulled in a massive haul. The total compensation to the CEO hit $2.3 billion, nearly entirely due to him selling shares connected with the company's IPO last year, GMI says. Following Zuckerberg is the $1.1 billion total payout to Richard Kinder, CEO of energy firm Kinder Morgan. "This year, the list dwarfs anything we've seen before," Ruel says.
•Biggest gains concentrated with largest companies. CEOs at big companies in the S&P 500 saw their total median realized pay jump nearly 20%. Companies in the S&P Smallcap index, on the other hand, rose 7.8%. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, the most valuable company, scored another big payday: $143.8 million.
(Read more: Top-paid CEOs are often fired or fined: Study)
And if the stock market keeps soaring this year, CEO pay might race past even 2012's head-turning levels, Ruel says. "Overall could be another double-digit pay increase as long as stock prices continue to rise," he says.
— By Matt Krantz of USA TODAY