Why One Wall Street CEO Rejected His Bonus


On Nov. 24, TheStreet.com’s Jim Cramer appeared on The Today Show.

On the air, Cramer told host Matt Lauer that despite the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street over the past year, lavish Wall Street bonuses would continue just the same — a brash thumb in the eye to struggling Americans who would neither get a bonus nor a bailout of their own anytime soon.

"What happened to these people? Nothing," Cramer said. "They got the money, they left. ... They got away with it, so why shouldn't the next guy try?"

And try they have.

According to a 2009 study on executive compensation by the New York State Attorney General’s Office, a “who’s who” of Wall Street banks that grabbed federal bailout cash actually paid out bonuses to top-tier execs in excess of the actual profits earned by the financial institutions.

According to the New York State report:

  • Goldman Sachs only earned $2.3 billion last year, grabbed $10 billion in TARP, then paid out $4.8 billion in bonuses in 2008 — more than double its net income.
  • Morgan Stanley (Stock Quote: MS) only earned $1.7 billion last year, received $10 billion in bailout funds, then paid $4.475 billion in bonuses, nearly three times their net income.
  • JPMorgan Chase (Stock Quote: JPM) only earned $5.6 billion in 2008 and received $25 billion from the government, but it paid out $8.69 billion in bonus money.
  • Citigroup (Stock Quote: C) and Merrill Lynch suffered a combined $54 billion in losses in 2008. The banks received a total of $55 billion in bailouts and paid out $9 billion in combined bonuses.

A separate study, this one from Harvard Law School, says that the chief executive officers of two failed investment banks, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, earned “hundreds of millions of dollars” in bonuses and compensation — even as the banks’ shareholders lost everything.

Still another study, from Johnson Associates, says that Wall Street bankers can expect up to a 40% increase in year-end bonuses when compared to 2008.

Consumers are up in arms over the issue, as surveys record the voices coming from Main Street to be loud and angry over bank executives stuffing their pockets with taxpayer-funded bailout money. According to The Wall Street Journal, two-thirds of Americans viewed bank executives as "unfavorable." And 75% of Americans surveyed said that any bank that received TARP funds shouldn’t pay any bonuses in 2009.

So it’s refreshing to hear that at least one Wall Street CEO — John Mack — has gone public with his intent to forego his year-end bonus. Mack, who is leaving Morgan Stanley at the end of 2009, wrote in a memo to employees this month that “given this unprecedented environment and the extraordinary financial support governments provided to our industry” he would accept no bonus this year.

Morgan Stanley has since paid off its TARP debts, but Mack told his staffers that he wouldn’t accept any extra compensation in a year where the bank didn’t make a profit.

So, despite paying out all those extravagant bonuses, maybe Mack is on to something. If enough bank CEOs stand up and say “no” to bonuses funded by taxpayer money, then banks will go a long way in restoring their credibility with the American people.

—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at BankingMyWay.com.

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