Total compensation for chief executives at the largest U.S. home-building corporations jumped 37% last year as sales and construction picked up, but stockholders didn't fare as well.

CEOs at the 13 largest public home builders received median compensation of nearly $7.9 million for 2013, which includes base salary, bonuses and long-term incentive grants, according to FPL Associates LP, a real-estate-focused compensation consultant in Chicago. Last year's average pay package, although much higher than in 2012, was still less than the peak of $11.3 million set in 2005.

The rise in CEO pay largely reflects gains in sales and production of new homes. Builders sold 429,000 homes last year, up nearly 17% from 2012 and 40% from a historic low of 306,000 in 2011, Census Bureau data show. The companies did so while increasing median prices by 18% from 2012, to $268,900.

Share prices of building stocks, however, trailed the gains in compensation and lagged behind the broader stock market. Total shareholder returns for the 13 builders rose 13% in 2013, according to FPL, compared with a 32% gain in total shareholder return, which includes dividends, for the S&P 500 index last year.

Jeremy Banoff, a senior managing director at FPL, said that gap is unlikely to continue. "Longer term, investors tend to prefer a closer alignment of changes in pay with that of stock-price performance."

During the first half of 2013, housing stocks had a strong performance. The S&P Composite 1500 Homebuilding Index of 11 home-builder stocks rose 20.5% on a total-return basis last year through May 8. The next day, interest rates began a climb over the next few months of roughly one percentage point, leading the index to decline 7.9% for the balance of 2013. For the year, it finished up 11%. The rising interest rates combined with rapidly rising prices for new homes to damp demand. The chill has persisted this year for various reasons. The index is up 1.3% year to date.

FPl's analysis found that compensation trends among individual builder CEOs didn't always reflect a company's size and performance.

Larry Mizel at M.D.C. Holdings Inc., parent of Richmond American Homes, ranked as the second-highest-paid home-builder CEO, receiving $12.2 million last year. Yet his company is the industry's 11th largest by 2013 closings, according to Builder Magazine. MDC representatives didn't return messages seeking comment.

Beazer Homes USA Inc. CEO Allan Merrill earned $4 million last year, up 9% from 2012, even as the company posted its seventh consecutive fiscal year of net losses. The gain resulted entirely from a larger long-term incentive award for Mr. Merrill in 2013 than in 2012. A Beazer representative declined to comment.

For its fiscal year ended Sept. 30, Beazer, the 10th-largest home builder, posted a 28% gain in revenue to $1.3 billion, a 14% increase in closings to 5,056 and a net loss of $38.9 million, 77% less than the previous year.

In comparison, Hovnanian Enterprises Inc., the seventh-largest builder, booked a profit in its fiscal year ended Oct. 31, 2013, after two years of losses. Yet CEO Ara Hovnanian earned 8.4% less in 2013, $5.9 million, than in 2012, FPL found. His decline in pay is due to a smaller long-term incentive award in 2013 than a year earlier. A Hovnanian representative declined to comment.

Overall, FPL found that the median base salary for the 13 CEOs, $1 million, remained the same in 2013 as in 2012. Long-term incentive awards, which are stock, option and cash awards tied to the company's performance, increased 21% to a median value of nearly $3.3 million. The incentive awards that FPL counts as 2013 pay generally were granted by builders early this year after the companies finalized 2013 results.

Most of the increase in CEOs' overall pay last year came from gains in annual cash bonuses, which increased 49% from 2012 to a median of $2.5 million. Bonuses often are tied to increases in pretax earnings or similar financial measures.

But some builders paid executives smaller bonuses last year than required under terms of their contracts. At D.R. Horton Inc., the nation's biggest home builder, the top two executives, Executive Chairman Donald R. Horton and CEO Donald Tomnitz, each were scheduled to receive bonuses amounting to 1% of the builder's pretax income in 2013. However, D.R. Horton's directors, seeking to balance short-term and long-term incentives, reduced that amount for 2013 to 0.75%. Thus, the executives each received $4.9 million rather than $6.6 million. A D.R. Horton representative declined to comment.

Similarly, top executives at Lennar Corp. , the No. 2 builder, agreed to take smaller allotments of Lennar's pretax income as bonuses after that measure increased significantly last year. Still, Lennar CEO Stuart Miller remained the highest-paid CEO among the 13 builders last year, as he was in 2012. Mr. Miller's 2013 pay of $13.6 million amounted to a 6% increase from 2012, according to FPL. A Lennar representative declined to comment.

Lennar, based in Miami, posted strong results in its year ended Nov. 30, 2013, including a tripling of its pretax income to $682 million and a 33% increase in closings to 18,290. The builder's three-year total shareholder return of 29.1% is the fourth best among the 13 builders, according to FPL.

Only one of the 13 builders ran into difficulty this year with shareholders' nonbinding vote on executive compensation. MDC, based in Denver, narrowly missed rejection of its pay plan, with 52% of shareholders voting in favor and 48% against.

Advisory firm Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. had recommended a vote against MDC's pay plan because it awarded $10 million bonuses to top executives for a year that yielded a 12.3% decline in shareholder return. MDC said before the vote in May that its pay program is based on "reasonable goals that were achieved and exceeded."

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