Proposal 4: Approve the Amendment of the Alaska Air Group, Inc. Employee Stock Purchase Plan
At the Annual Meeting, stockholders are being asked to approve an amendment to the Alaska Air Group, Inc. 2010 Employee Stock Purchase Plan (the ESPP) that would extend the term of the plan from March 1, 2020 until February 14, 2029. The Board adopted this amendment, subject to stockholder approval, on February 15, 2019, and also renamed the plan as the Alaska Air Group, Inc. Employee Stock Purchase Plan.
The Board believes that the ESPP helps the Company retain and motivate eligible employees and further align their interests with those of the Company’s stockholders. The Board approved the extension of the ESPP so that the Company can continue to provide this benefit to eligible employees in the future.
Summary Description of the ESPP
The principal terms of the ESPP (as proposed to be amended) are summarized below. This summary is qualified in its entirety by the full text of the ESPP, which has been filed as Exhibit A to the copy of this Proxy Statement that was filed electronically with the SEC and can be reviewed at www.sec.gov. A copy of the amended and restated version of the ESPP document may also be obtained without charge by writing to the Corporate Secretary of the Company. Capitalized terms used in this proposal are as defined in the ESPP unless otherwise defined in this Proxy Statement.
The purpose of the ESPP is to provide eligible employees with an opportunity to purchase shares of the Company’s common stock at a favorable price and upon favorable terms in consideration of the participating employees’ continued services. The ESPP is intended to provide an additional incentive to participating eligible employees to remain in the Company’s employ and to advance the best interests of the Company and its stockholders.
Operation of the ESPP
The ESPP generally operates in consecutive six-month periods referred to as Offering Periods. The determination of the duration of future Offering Periods may be changed from time to time. However, only one Offering Period may be in effect at any one time, and an Offering Period may not be shorter than three months and may not be longer than 27 months. Currently, a new Offering Period commences on September 1 and March 1 each year and ends on the following February 28 (or 29, in the case of a leap year) and August 31, respectively. The ESPP gives the Company’s flexibility to change the duration and structure of future Offering Periods (including the division of Offering Periods into one or more purchase periods).
On the first day of each Offering Period (referred to as the Grant Date), each eligible employee who has timely filed a valid election to participate in the ESPP for that Offering Period will be granted an option to purchase shares of the Company’s common stock. A participant must designate in his or her election the percentage of his or her compensation to be withheld from his or her pay during that Offering Period for the purchase of stock under the ESPP. The participant’s contributions under the ESPP will be credited to a bookkeeping account in his or her name. A participant generally may elect to increase, decrease or terminate his or her contributions to the ESPP effective with the first Offering Period that commences after the election is received. Subject to certain limits, a participant generally also may elect to terminate his or her contributions to the ESPP during an Offering Period or may elect, on one occasion only during an Offering Period, to decrease (but not increase) his or her contributions for that Offering Period. Amounts contributed to the ESPP constitute general corporate assets of the Company and may be used for any corporate purpose.
Each option granted under the ESPP will automatically be exercised on the last day of the Offering Period with respect to which it was granted (referred to as the Exercise Date). The number of shares acquired by a participant upon exercise of his or her option will be determined by dividing the participant’s ESPP account balance as of the applicable Exercise Date by the Option Price (as described in the following sentences) for that Offering Period. The Option Price for an Offering Period will generally be the lesser of (i) 85% of the fair market value of a share of the
Company’s common stock on the applicable Grant Date, or (ii) 85% of the fair market value of a share of the Company’s common stock on the applicable Exercise Date. The Company may change, however, the method for establishing the Option Price in the future, provided that any change will not take effect until the next Offering Period after the change and the maximum discount percentage is 15%. A participant’s ESPP account will be reduced upon exercise of his or her option by the amount used to pay the Option Price of the shares acquired by the participant. No interest will be paid to any participant or credited to any account under the ESPP.
Only certain employees will be eligible to participate in the ESPP. To be eligible to participate in an Offering Period, on the Grant Date of that period an individual must be customarily employed for more than five months per calendar year.
As of March 15, 2019, approximately 22,200 employees of the Company and its subsidiaries, including all of the Company’s Named Executive Officers, were eligible to participate in the ESPP.
Limits on Authorized Shares; Limits on Contributions
A maximum of 8,000,000 shares of the Company’s common stock may be purchased under the ESPP. The amendments proposed to stockholders will not require any authorization of additional shares. As of March 15, 2019, a total of 4,775,625 shares remained available for issuance under the ESPP.
Participation in the ESPP is also subject to the following limits:
The Company has the flexibility to change the 1% and 10% contribution limits and the individual share limit referred to above from time to time without stockholder approval. However, the Company cannot increase the aggregate share limit under the ESPP, other than to reflect stock splits and similar adjustments as described below, without stockholder approval. The $25,000 and the 5% ownership limitations referred to above are required under the Internal Revenue Code. The foregoing share limits are also subject to adjustment upon certain corporate events as described below under Anti-dilution Adjustments.
As is customary in stock incentive plans of this nature, the number and kind of shares available under the ESPP, as well as ESPP purchase prices and share limits, are subject to adjustment in the case of certain corporate events. These events include reorganizations, mergers, combinations, consolidations, recapitalizations, reclassifications, stock splits, stock dividends, asset sales or other similar unusual or extraordinary corporate events, or extraordinary dividends or distributions of property to the Company’s stockholders.
A participant’s election to participate in the ESPP will generally continue in effect for all Offering Periods until the participant files a new election that takes effect, or the participant ceases to participate in the ESPP. A participant’s participation in the ESPP generally will terminate if, prior to the applicable Exercise Date, the participant ceases to be employed by the Company or one of its participating subsidiaries or the participant is no longer scheduled to work more than five months per calendar year.
If a participant’s ESPP participation terminates during an Offering Period for any of the reasons discussed in the preceding paragraph, he or she will no longer be permitted to make contributions to the ESPP for that Offering Period and, subject to limited exceptions, his or her option for that Offering Period will automatically terminate and his or her ESPP account balance will be paid to him or her in cash without interest. However, a participant’s termination from participation will not have any effect upon his or her ability to participate in any succeeding Offering Period, provided that the applicable eligibility and participation requirements are again met at that time.
A participant’s rights with respect to options or the purchase of shares under the ESPP, as well as contributions credited to his or her ESPP account, may not be assigned, transferred, pledged or otherwise disposed of in any way except by will or the laws of descent and distribution.
The ESPP is administered by the Board or by a committee appointed by the Board. The Board has appointed the Compensation and Leadership Development Committee of the Board as the current administrator of the ESPP. The administrator has full power and discretion to adopt, amend or rescind any rules and regulations for carrying out the ESPP and to construe and interpret the ESPP. Decisions of the ESPP administrator with respect to the ESPP are final and binding on all persons.
No Limit on Other Plans
The ESPP does not limit the ability of the Board or any committee of the Board to grant awards or authorize any other compensation, with or without reference to the Company’s common stock, under any other plan or authority.
The Board generally may amend or terminate the ESPP at any time and in any manner, provided that the then-existing rights of participants are not materially and adversely affected thereby. Stockholder approval for an amendment to the ESPP will only be required to the extent necessary to meet the requirement of Section 423 of the Internal Revenue Code or to the extent otherwise required by law or NYSE rules. The ESPP administrator also may, from time to time, without stockholder approval and without limiting the Board’s amendment authority, designate those subsidiaries of the Company whose employees may participate in the ESPP and, subject only to certain limitations under the Internal Revenue Code, change the ESPP’s eligibility rules.
The ESPP currently provides that, unless the Board terminates the ESPP earlier, the ESPP will terminate on, and no new Offering Periods will commence under the ESPP after, March 1, 2020. If stockholders approve the proposed amendment of the ESPP, this termination date for the ESPP will be extended to February 15, 2029. The ESPP will also terminate earlier if all of the shares authorized under the ESPP have been purchased.
Federal Income Tax Consequences of the ESPP
Following is a general summary of the current federal income tax principles applicable to the ESPP. The following summary is not intended to be exhaustive and, among other considerations, does not describe the deferred compensation provisions of Section 409A of the Internal Revenue Code to the extent an award is subject to and does not satisfy those rules, nor does it describe state, local or international tax consequences.
The ESPP is intended to qualify as an “employee stock purchase plan” under Section 423 of the Internal Revenue Code. Participant contributions to the ESPP are made on an after-tax basis. That is, a participant’s ESPP contributions are deducted from compensation that is taxable to the participant and for which the Company is generally entitled to a tax deduction.
Generally, no taxable income is recognized by a participant with respect to either the grant or exercise of his or her ESPP option. The Company will have no tax deduction with respect to either of those events. A participant will generally recognize income (or loss) only upon a sale or disposition of any shares that the participant acquires under the ESPP. The particular tax consequences of a sale of shares acquired under the ESPP depend on whether the participant has held the shares for a Required Holding Period (as described in the following sentence) before selling or disposing of the shares. The Required Holding Period starts on the date that the participant acquires the shares under the ESPP and ends on the later of (1) two years after the Grant Date of the Offering Period in which the participant acquired the shares, or (2) one year after the Exercise Date on which the participant acquired the shares.
If the participant holds the shares for the Required Holding Period and then sells the shares at a price in excess of the purchase price paid for the shares, the gain on the sale of the shares will be taxed as ordinary income to the participant to the extent of the lesser of (1) the amount by which the fair market value of the shares on the Grant Date of the Offering Period in which the participant acquired the shares exceeded the purchase price of the shares (calculated as though the shares had been purchased on the Grant Date), or (2) the gain on the sale of the shares. Any portion of the participant’s gain on the sale of the shares not taxed as ordinary income will be taxed as long-term capital gain. If the participant holds the shares for the Required Holding Period and then sells the shares at a price less than the purchase price paid for the shares, the loss on the sale will be treated as a long-term capital loss to the participant. The Company will not be entitled to a tax deduction with respect to any shares held by the participant for the Required Holding Period, regardless of whether the shares are eventually sold at a gain or a loss.
The participant has a Disqualifying Disposition if the participant disposes of the shares before the participant has held the shares for the Required Holding Period. If the participant sells the shares in a Disqualifying Disposition, the participant will realize ordinary income in an amount equal to the difference between the purchase price paid for the shares and the fair market value of the shares on the Exercise Date on which the participant acquired the shares, and the Company generally will be entitled to a corresponding tax deduction. In addition, if the participant makes a Disqualifying Disposition of the shares at a price in excess of the fair market value of the shares on the Exercise Date, the participant will realize capital gain in an amount equal to the difference between the selling price of the shares and the fair market value of the shares on the Exercise Date. Alternatively, if the participant makes a Disqualifying Disposition of the shares at a price less than the fair market value of the shares on the Exercise Date, the participant will realize a capital loss in an amount equal to the difference between the fair market value of the shares on the Exercise Date and the selling price of the shares. The Company will not be entitled to a tax deduction with respect to any capital gain realized by a participant.
Securities Underlying Awards
The closing price of a share of the Company’s common stock as of March 15, 2019 was $55.76 per share.
The closing price of a share of the Company’s common stock as of March 15, 2019 was $55.76 per share.
The benefits that will be received by or allocated to eligible employees under the ESPP cannot be determined at this time because the amount of contributions set aside to purchase shares of the Company’s common stock under the ESPP (subject to the limitations discussed above) is entirely within the discretion of each participant. If the extension of the term of the ESPP described in this Proposal 4 had been in effect in fiscal year 2018, the Company does not expect that the number of shares purchased by participants in the ESPP during fiscal year 2018 would have been materially different than the number of shares purchased as set forth in the table below.
Non-employee directors are not eligible to participate in the Company’s employee stock purchase plan.
Equity Compensation Plan Information
The Board believes that approval of the amendment to the ESPP to extend the term as described above will promote the Company’s interests and the interests of its stockholders and continue to enable the Company to attract, retain and reward employees important to its success.
Members of the Board who are not employees are not eligible to participate in the ESPP. All of the Company’s executive officers (including the Named Executive Officers) are eligible to participate in the ESPP and thus have a personal interest in the approval of the ESPP extension.
Vote Required for Approval of the Employee Stock Purchase Plan Amendment
Approval of the amendments to the ESPP requires the affirmative vote of a majority of the shares of common stock represented at the Annual Meeting, in person or by proxy, and entitled to vote on the matter. An abstention, because it is not a vote “for” will have the effect of a vote “against” this ESPP proposal. Broker non-votes will not be counted as a vote “for” or “against” this ESPP proposal.
THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS RECOMMENDS THAT YOU VOTE FOR THE APPROVAL OF THE AMENDMENT OF THE ALASKA AIR GROUP, INC. EMPLOYEE STOCK PURCHASE PLAN AS DESCRIBED ABOVE.