Nabors pays exec $60 million now to pay him less later

At this point, what’s another $60 million? Perhaps that’s what the board of Nabors Industries was thinking when it decided to pay chief executive Anthony Petrello $60 million to give up future bonuses. Nabors has a long and egregious history of overpaying its executives while its shareholders suffer, and the latest deal is just more of the same.

In the past couple of years, Nabors, which is incorporated in Bermuda and operates from Houston, has attempted to rein in its runaway pay practices after shareholder outcry over a plan to pay Petrello’s predecessor, Eugene Isenberg, a $100 million severance.

Isenberg later waived the payment.

Both Petrello and Isenberg frequently top Houston’s list of highest paid executives, despite the company’s lackluster stock performance in the past five years. Petrello, who took over for Isenberg in October 2011, has adopted the ways of his predecessor. In 2011, he received total compensation of about $16 million, according to regulatory filings. Nabors hasn’t yet filed its proxy statement detailing executive pay for 2012.

Shareholders have overwhelmingly voted against pay packages the past two years, but the nonbinding votes have done little to slow the flow of cash from company coffers to executive pockets.

In a filing earlier this week, Nabors outlined a plan in which Petrello would receive $27 million worth of Nabors stocks, $18 million in cash and $15 million in restricted shares in exchange for rewriting his employment contract. The new contract would, finally, tie his pay more closely to company performance.

While it may have been the only way to close the spigot on Nabors’ sordid pay history, it’s yet another insult to the company’s long-suffering shareholders. Nabors shares have tumbled 13 percent on Petrello’s watch.

After years of paying for failure, Nabors investors are once again being forced to pony up, in hopes that they won’t ever have to again.