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Wall Street Executives Made $3 Billion Before Crisis

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Tom Randall and Jamie McGee
Bloomberg
Saturday, Sept 27, 2008

Wall Street’s five biggest firms paid more than $3 billion in the last five years to their top executives, while they presided over the packaging and sale of loans that helped bring down the investment-banking system.

Merrill Lynch & Co. paid its chief executives the most, with Stanley O’Neal taking in $172 million from 2003 to 2007 and John Thain getting $86 million, including a signing bonus, after beginning work in December. The company agreed to be acquired by Bank of America Corp. for about $50 billion on Sept. 15. Bear Stearns Cos.’s James “Jimmy” Cayne made $161 million before the company collapsed and was sold to JPMorgan Chase & Co. in June.

Democrats and Republicans in Congress are demanding that limits be placed on executive pay as part of the $700 billion financial rescue plan proposed by U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. The former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. CEO, who received about $111 million between 2003 and 2006, said in testimony to Congress on Sept. 24 that he would accept such limits as part of the plan, after initially opposing them.

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“Shareholders and boards should have done something about this a long time ago,” said Charles Elson, director of the Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware in Newark. “They justified these levels of pay on the idea that they’re all geniuses. I think that balloon has burst.”

Wall Street firms have shared profits liberally with employees. The five biggest — Goldman, Morgan Stanley, Merrill, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and Bear Stearns — paid their 185,687 employees $66 billion in 2007, as problems with subprime mortgages mounted, including about $39 billion in bonuses. That amounts to average pay of $353,089 per employee, including an average bonus of $211,849. The five firms had combined net income of $93 billion during the five years through 2007.

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This article was posted: Saturday, September 27, 2008 at 3:55 am





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