The typical pay package for the head of a company in the Standard & Poor's 500 was $9 million in 2010, according to an analysis by The Associated Press using data provided by Equilar, an executive compensation research firm. That was 24 percent higher than a year earlier, reversing two years of declines.
Executives were showered with more pay of all types—salaries, bonuses, stock, options and perks. The biggest gains came in cash bonuses: Two-thirds of executives got a bigger one than they had in 2009, some more than three times as big.
CEOs were rewarded because corporate profits soared in 2010 as the economy gradually got stronger and companies continued to cut costs. Profit for the companies in the AP analysis rose 41 percent last year.
The stock market also continued its climb. Stocks rose 13 percent in 2010 and have now almost doubled since March 2009. The market's two-year run has fattened executive bonuses because some CEOs are rewarded for how the company's stock does.
Separately, the bull market has left CEOs enormous paper gains on stock and options they were granted as part of pay packages in 2009 and 2010. They are already worth $6.3 billion, 68 percent more than the companies thought they would be worth over the lifetime of the grants.
The AP used the Equilar data to analyze CEO pay packages at 334 companies in the S&P 500 that had filed statements with federal regulators through April 29. Pay was analyzed at companies that had the same CEO in both 2009 and 2010. The AP's analysis is the most comprehensive of 2010 compensation.
Among the other findings in the AP analysis:
—The highest-paid CEO in 2010 was Philippe Dauman of Viacom , the entertainment company that owns MTV, Nickelodeon and Paramount Pictures. He received a pay package valued at $84.5 million, two and a half times what he made the year before. He signed a contract in April 2010 that included stock and options valued by the company at $54.2 million when they were granted.
—Six of the 10 best-paid CEOs come from media or entertainment, industries helped by a recovery in advertising and innovations in digital distribution. Besides Dauman, they are Leslie Moonves of CBS , $56.9 million; David Zaslav of Discovery Communications , $42.6 million; Brian Roberts of Comcast , $31.1 million; Robert Iger of Walt Disney , $28 million; and Jeff Bewkes of Time Warner , $26.1 million.
—The 10 highest-paid CEOs made $440 million in 2010, a third more than the top 10 made in 2009. Four CEOs—Dauman, Moonves, Roberts and Ray Irani of Occidental Petroleum —were on the Top 10 list both years.
To calculate CEO pay, the AP adds an executive's salary, bonuses, perks, any interest on deferred pay that's above market interest rates, and the value a company places on stock and stock options awarded during the year.
The median pay value of $9 million, calculated by Equilar, is the midpoint of the companies used in the AP analysis; half of the CEOs made more and half made less. In 2007, the median pay was $8.4 million. In 2008 it was $7.6 million, and in 2009 it was $7.2 million. The $9 million median for 2010 is the highest since the AP began the analysis in 2006.
The economy gradually improved in 2010, the first full year of recovery after the Great Recession. The private sector added 1.2 million jobs after losing 5 million in 2009. The unemployment rate fell from 9.9 percent to 9.4 percent.
For companies that the AP analyzed, revenue grew about 12 percent, according to data provider CapitalIQ. That helped lift earnings, as did companies' ability to hold down costs. Companies could limit raises for rank-and-file workers because of the weak labor market.
The bigger profits helped push up the typical cash bonus given to a CEO by 39 percent in 2010, to $2 million, according to Equilar. Some companies, including Ford and JPMorgan Chase , didn't grant bonuses in 2009 but paid big sums last year as business made a strong comeback from the recession.
Companies analyzed by AP granted their CEOs about $1.3 billion in stock in 2010, up about $300 million from the year before. They awarded stock options worth $702 million, or about $27 million more than the year before.
Those figures are based on formulas the companies use to estimate what the stock and options will eventually be worth when a CEO receives the stock or cashes in the options.
Meanwhile, pay for workers grew 3 percent in 2010, to an average of about $40,500. The percentage increase was twice the rate of inflation, but the average wage was less than one-half of one percent of what the typical CEO in the AP analysis made.
Some critics of today's executive pay say boards should consider how much a CEO has accumulated over the years when they set the next year's pay.
"Boards need to recognize that many CEOs already have enough in terms of motivation and lifetime wealth," says Jesse Brill, chair of the website CompensationStandards.com and an expert on CEO pay. "It is very frustrating to see boards keep giving them more."
As evidence, Brill points to stock and options given to CEOs the past two years. Boards at most companies grant those awards early in the year. In 2009, most were granted just as the stock market neared its lowest point in 12 years; today they are worth $2.2 billion more than the companies thought they would be over the lifetime of the grants.