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The 10 Highest-Paid CEOs 2009: Execs Get 'Once-In-A-Lifetime Pay Bonanza' (PHOTOS)

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NEW YORK (BY RACHEL BECK, AP) -- America's top CEOs are set for a once-in-a-lifetime pay bonanza.

(SCROLL DOWN FOR A LIST OF THE TOP 10 HIGHEST-PAID CEOS)

Most of them got their annual stock compensation early last year when the stock market was at a 12-year low. And companies doled out more stock and options than usual because grants from the previous year had fallen so much in value that many people thought they'd never be worth anything.

But stock prices have generally surged ever since. Even with last week's sharp declines, CEOs still have enormous gains on paper.

"The dirty secret of 2009 is that CEOs were sitting on more wealth by the end of the year than they had accumulated in a long time," says David Wise, who advises boards on executive compensation for the Hay Group, a management consulting firm.

An Associated Press analysis of companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 index shows that 85 percent of the stock options given to CEOs last year are now worth more than they were on the day they were granted. For some the value jumped by a factor of 10 or more. A year ago, after the stock market had collapsed, 90 percent of the options granted in 2008 were worth less than the original estimate, or were considered "underwater," according to the AP's analysis...

Overall, the AP analysis found that the median 2009 pay package for chief executives at companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 index fell by about 11 percent to $7.2 million. That followed a 7 percent decline in 2008 in median pay. The median value is the midpoint in the AP sample, meaning half of the CEOs made more and half made less.

The total doesn't take into account the increase in value on paper of the stock and the options executives received. The median pay only reflects the value that companies must assign to stock compensation when it is initially granted.

(Check out the top 10 highest-paid CEOS in 2009, along with a breakdown of how their respective stocks have fared over the last year.)

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