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Amazon lifts executive stock awards as Apple rivalry heats up

A zoomed image of a computer screen showing the Amazon logo is seen in Vienna November 26, 2012. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader
A zoomed image of a computer screen showing the Amazon logo is seen in Vienna November 26, 2012. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

By Alistair Barr

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Amazon.com Inc increased stock compensation for key executives in 2012 as the world's largest Internet retailer stepped up competition with Apple Inc, according to a regulatory filing on Friday.

In the filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Amazon added Apple to the peer group it uses to help determine how much to pay executives.

The filing shows how Amazon's business has changed in recent years, bringing it into closer competition with Apple and pushing the company to lift compensation to be more competitive, analysts and compensation experts said. An Amazon spokesman declined to comment.

"Amazon has focused more on hardware and digital media in the past couple of years, both areas of focus for Apple," said Scott Tilghman, an analyst at B Riley & Co. "So it makes sense for them to be added in to Amazon's peer group."

Jeffrey Wilke, head of Amazon's consumer business, got 91,289 restricted stock units, a common form of equity compensation known as RSUs, in 2012, according to the filing . That was up 83 percent from 2010 when Wilke was awarded 50,000 RSUs.

Amazon awards RSUs to executives every two years typically.

Diego Piacentini, who runs Amazon's international consumer business, got 60,246 RSUs in 2012, up 31 percent from 2010, while Andrew Jassy, head of the company's cloud computing business, was awarded 59,519 RSUs, up 29 percent from 2010, Amazon reported.

Wilke's 2012 award was worth $17.6 million, while Piacentini's and Jassy's were valued at less than $12 million, according to the regulatory filing.

Amazon launched its own tablet, the Kindle Fire, in 2011, and last year the company rolled out larger versions of the device to compete more with Apple's dominant iPad.

Amazon is using the Kindle Fire to try to sell more digital goods, such as music, video, apps and games, an area where Apple's iTunes store leads.

Lab126, a unit of Amazon that designed the company's Kindle e-reader and works on the Kindle Fire tablets, leased more than 500,000 square feet of office space last year in the heart of Silicon Valley, about 13 miles from Apple's headquarters.

Mark Borges, of consulting firm Compensia, who specializes in executive compensation in the technology sector, said peer groups are chosen by companies based on which rivals they compete against for talent.

"It may be a function of where Amazon sees the market going," Borges said. "One of the factors to be considered is what competitors are doing with equity awards, and they may be concerned their executives are candidates to be recruited and want to give them enough of a pay opportunity to tie them to the company."

RSUs awarded to Wilke, Piacentini and Jassy in 2012 vest in installments through early 2018, assuming the executives still work at the company, according to Amazon's SEC filing on Friday.

Despite increasing equity awards in 2012, Amazon's stock-based executive compensation still lags behind Apple.

In 2012, Apple awarded RSUs to four top executives -- Peter Oppenheimer, Robert Mansfield, Bruce Sewell and Jeffrey Williams -- worth about $60 million each, according to a regulatory filing.

(Reporting by Alistair Barr; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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