It was a year of layoffs and austerity, of high unemployment and outrage over executive pay. So in 2009, CFO compensation could be expected to fall, right? But last year also saw increases in corporate profits and GDP growth, not to mention an unexpectedly strong stock market rebound. As a result, despite all the bad news, connecting the dots on last year's trends in compensation shows an erratic sense of direction. And though there's talk of increases across the board in everything from salaries to the value of long-term stock awards, complex factors could yield surprises in 2010 as well.

Whether overall compensation increased or declined last year is open to debate. Treasury & Risk commissioned a study of the 2009 compensation of 50 Fortune 500 CFOs from Equilar, a Redwood Shores, Calif.-based executive compensation research firm. The study showed median total compensation rose 5% to $4.8 million, from $4.5 million in 2008, but a closer look revealed that results were down in each pay category. For example, the median salary dropped 5.8% to $655,000, while the value of option awards fell 14.7% to $631,801 and stock awards declined 19%.

The disparity in part reflects companies' efforts to shift around pay elements in 2009, says Aaron Boyd, research manager at Equilar, noting that medians are not additive. As firms scrambled to address the economic crisis, they increased or decreased the amount of options, restricted stock and other components of pay to come up with acceptable packages. Amid that retooling, the median total value of equity compensation–including stock and option awards–grew 3.2%, from $2.47 million in 2008 to $2.55 million in 2009. "The median went up, in part, because the total amount of equity increased," says Boyd.

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