Bruton Smith’s total pay jumps about 60% at Sonic

As chairman and chief executive of Sonic Automotive, Bruton Smith received more than $4.2 million in compensation last year, a nearly 60 percent increase over 2007.

Most of that gain, however, was from nearly $2.4 million in exercised stock options, according to a company filing Thursday with federal regulators. Without that, Smith received about $1.8 million – about 30 percent less than in 2007, when he got a much bigger bonus but didn't exercise any options. The Observer counts salary, bonuses, stock awards, gains from exercised options and perks as total pay.

A Charlotte-based Fortune 500 company, Sonic is one of the nation's largest auto dealers, with 164 franchises in 15 states. The company and its competitors have been battered in the recession, which has severely curbed vehicle purchases.

Sonic last week reported a fourth-quarter loss of $685.6 million, compared with a $23 million profit a year earlier. Executives said the loss wasn't in operations but in assets that now have a much lower value than what Sonic paid.

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