Executive compensation approached something resembling reason last year among companies in the S&P 500 Consumer Discretionary category, which includes the media, retail, restaurant and homebuilding industries.

In 2001, some gaudy payouts were lavished upon executives whose companies notched spotty performance that year, such as former chief Gerald Levin's $77.3 million at AOL Time Warner ( AOL) and Jacques Nasser's $17.9 million compensation from Ford Motor ( F).

While 2002 didn't mark the end of hefty payouts -- witness the $38.8 million take for KB Home's ( KBH) Bruce Karatz and H. Lee Scott's $21.7 million bonanza at Wal-Mart ( WMT) -- executive compensation in this category was curtailed a bit, even at some of the biggest companies, where compensation tends to be higher.

Indeed, a few high-profile chieftains such as Meg Whitman at eBay ( EBAY) took home a mere six-figure income. But as today's ROE v. Paid: Consumer Discretionary chart shows, eBay didn't exactly light up the scoreboard on the return-on-equity side either.

As part of TheStreet.com's coverage of executive pay, the ROE v. Paid charts compare a company's average return on equity -- or ROE, a handy measure of how effectively a CEO puts shareholder money to use -- over the past five years with the chief executive's executive compensation. For compensation, we used the most recent figures provided by Aon Consulting's eComp Database -- the numbers include salary, bonus and options.

How did the category measure up? This is a group that features some of the steadiest return-on-equity performers around: slot-machine maker International Game Technology ( IGT), auto-parts retailer AutoZone ( AZO) and discount-clothing retailer TJX Cos. ( TJX).

But media and Internet giants don't avail themselves especially well from a ROE standpoint: Disney's ( DIS) five-year average ROE was just 5%, but it was better than Viacom's ( VIA.B) 0% and AOL Time Warner ( AOL), whose one-year ROE was a negative 96.34%.

Click here to see entire ROE v. Paid: Consumer Discretionary chart.

Using Discretion
There have been some solid performers on the return on equity front among the S&P 500's Consumer Discretionary category -- as well as a few skewed by big one-year ROE performance. There are also some fat payouts to the group's CEOs, but some of the biggest on the list are figures from 2001 -- signaled by the (2001) in the compensation column. Based on returns so far this season, compensation levels have come back from the stratospheric heights.
Company (Ticker Symbol) 5-yr ROE 1-yr ROE Chief Executive Compensation* Rank in 500 Richest CEOs in 2002 Stock Return in 2002
Maytag (MYG) 199.1% 574.85% Ralph Hake $7,219,018 #300-400 (2001) -8.2%
Dow Jones (DJ) 134.8 557.05 Peter Kann $5,062,286 #400-500 (2001) -21
International Game Technology (IGT) 55.5 31.36 G. Baker $2,951,816
Not in Top 500

* eComp didn't provide compensation figure, so Yahoo! figures were used.
Source: TheStreet.com, Bloomberg, eComp Online, Yahoo!

Click here to see entire table.