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Electronic Arts Opens Employee Stock Spigot

Electronic Arts (ERTS) has been a crummy investment in recent years, but don't worry, help could be on the way -- if you're an insider.

The video game software company plans to allow employees and executives to exchange their stock options that are currently underwater because of the stock's decline for full shares of stock. Better yet for a select group of "key employees," which include EA's top executives, the company plans to hand out additional shares of stock and options as "retention awards."

EA's "underwater options may not be sufficiently effective as performance and retention incentives," the company said in its proxy statement filed on Friday, in which it outlined its plan. "We believe that to enhance long-term stockholder value we need to maintain competitive employee compensation and incentive programs that will assist us to motivate and retain our employees."

In order to exchange the options, the company will need get shareholders to approve the plan at its upcoming annual meeting, which will be held on July 27. Although the company doesn't need shareholder approval for the retention awards, it is separately asking investors to approve a sizeable increase in its employee stock grant plan that will allow for future grants of restricted shares.

But it's an open question about how accommodating -- and sympathetic -- shareholders will be.

That's in part because, with EA's stock down 18% over the last two years, longtime shareholders have themselves been suffering. The entire sector has been off of late due to a difficult transition to new video-game technology. But EA's shares are off to a greater extent than rivals such as THQ (THQI) and Activision (ATVI - Get Report) as a result of repeated earnings disappointments and slumping sales.

EA closed Friday down 43 cents, or 1%, to $43.04.
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