Wall Street's 10 Greatest Lies of 2009
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The only problem? History was repeating itself, as he spoke. Big banks took more risk in 2009, and posted more of their profits from trading operations than they had before they nearly collapsed in 2008. Trading profits at the top five banks rose from a $608 million loss in 2008 to $118.5 billion for annualized 2009, and $61.7 billion in 2007.
8) The pay czar will fight against – pay.
Treasury Department pay czar Ken Feinberg was supposedly appointed to keep a lid on excessive compensation for companies sitting on federal bailouts. Two problems with that: first, the Treasury Department continues to ignore the fact that the TARP portion of the bailout was only a tiny portion of the full bailout, and second, Wall Street was pushing back and winning at every turn.
For instance, after announcing he’d cap compensation for the top 25 execs at AIG, on October 23, Feinberg gave three of them a pass. These men were apparently “particularly critical to the company's long-term financial success.” Turning to his other role as Wall Street’s mouthpiece, Feinberg made excuses for AIG. “AIG compensation practices are unique. We took into account independent, very credible opinions of others to come up with a package that we think will help AIG thrive." That’s nice.
But he’s not kidding about thriving – those three employees will receive bonuses of about $4 million, $5 million and $7 million. AIG’s new CEO, Robert Benmosche, who joined AIG in August and got his pay approval out of the way on October 2, is bagging $10.5 million in annual compensation, including $3 million in cash, $4 million in stock options and $3.5 million in annual performance bonuses.
Then, on November 12, Feinberg said he was "very concerned" about scaring away top talent at the seven firms that took the biggest bailouts. Way to keep a lid on it, Ken.
But to be fair, it’s not really Feinberg’s fault. New York Fed and Treasury Department officials have been urging him to dial back restrictions for AIG folks in 2010 as well. Why? Because restricting pay will make it harder for the government to get back its loans to AIG. Right. Somehow paying these people stupid sums of money is the only way to get our money back. Because their "talent" worked out so well going into last year.
Elsewhere on Wall Street, the top six banks are getting set to pay out $150 billion in bonuses ($10 billion more than in 2008). GS is leading the pack in terms of bonus increases; it will dole out a projected $22 billion in compensation in 2009, compared to $11.8 billion in 2008 and $20.2 billion in 2007. JPM put aside $29.1 billion for 2009, compared to $24.6 billion in 2008 and $29.9 billion in 2007. Wells Fargo is spending $26.3 billion this year, compared to $23.1 billion in 2008 and $25.6 billion in 2007.
9) The lobbyists made us do it.
Going back to the big bank love fest at the White House earlier this month, execs promised to do better on regulation matters, citing a "disconnect" between their steadfast support for regulation and the fact that their lobbyists were pushing for as little new regulation as possible.
Really? Because this disconnect cost the financial sector $334 million so far this year for 2,560 lobbyists; a pittance compared to bonuses, but still, hard-taken cash. I’m sure another $334 million is coming to fight for stricter regulation in the New Year. Not.
10) Citigroup is the picture of health and too-big-to-fail is over.