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Posts Tagged ‘Wall Street compensation’

Joe Grano Takes On Wall Street and Washington

Posted by Larry Doyle on June 10th, 2011 9:36 AM |

There are few people in our nation today who are willing to stand up and call out both Wall Street and Washington. There are even fewer who have worked within these bastions of power and will subsequently make the hard calls while providing real ‘sense on cents’ in the process.

Yesterday I observed just such an individual. Who was it?

Joe Grano.

I had heard of Joe but never had the good fortune of listening to him speak. I will now look for him often. During an interview yesterday on Bloomberg, Joe was respectful but not bashful in taking on both Wall Street and Washington. How so? (more…)

Paul Volcker Tells Wall Street, “Wake Up, Gentlemen”

Posted by Larry Doyle on December 14th, 2009 9:44 AM |

While those on Wall Street and Washington pretend to listen to the needs and concerns of middle America, they have been shown to be ineffective time and time again in developing and implementing sound financial practices and regulations. America is increasingly aware of just how deeply embedded and incestuous the Wall Street-Washington relationship has become. Who within this Wall Street-Washington circle “gets it?” Paul Volcker.

Volcker called out our financial and political operatives a few months back in calling for an effective reinstitution of Glass-Steagall to separate commercial and investment banking activities. I highlighted that call by writing, “Volcker Launches Bombshell on Wall Street and Washington.”

Although Wall Street and Washington may pretend not to hear Volcker’s shots across the bow, they do so at their own peril. Why? America listens and hears Volcker loud and clear. (more…)

Goldman Sachs Doing God’s Work?

Posted by Larry Doyle on November 10th, 2009 12:20 PM |

Do you get the sense that Wall Street in general and Goldman Sachs in particular are getting overly miffed at the disdain heaped upon it by the American public? I do.

In a spirited defense put forth by Goldman Sachs CEO, Lloyd Blankfein invokes the Lord’s name in promoting the virtues of Goldman Sachs’ work. Aggressive move by Mr. Blankfein. The Wall Street Journal highlights this story in writing, Goldman Sachs’ Blankfein on Banking: ‘Doing God’s Work’:

The Times of London’s mammoth 6,900-word piece on Goldman Sachs over the weekend contains plenty of fodder for those that see the investment bank as Wall Street’s top dog, as well as those that see it as a creepy, conspiratorial vampire squid of finance.

But the key quote that’s getting attention comes in Goldman Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein’s exchange with a reporter after a question on whether there should be limits to compensation:

Is it possible to make too much money? “Is it possible to have too much ambition? Is it possible to be too successful?” Blankfein shoots back. “I don’t want people in this firm to think that they have accomplished as much for themselves as they can and go on vacation. As the guardian of the interests of the shareholders and, by the way, for the purposes of society, I’d like them to continue to do what they are doing. I don’t want to put a cap on their ambition. It’s hard for me to argue for a cap on their compensation.”

So, it’s business as usual, then, regardless of whether it makes most people howl at the moon with rage? Goldman Sachs, this pillar of the free market, breeder of super-citizens, object of envy and awe will go on raking it in, getting richer than God? An impish grin spreads across Blankfein’s face. Call him a fat cat who mocks the public. Call him wicked. Call him what you will. He is, he says, just a banker “doing God’s work”

Wow!! Let’s navigate. (more…)

Wall Street “Skin” Needs to Thicken

Posted by Larry Doyle on October 1st, 2009 3:11 PM |

I have little patience for dealing with thin-skinned people. In a similar fashion, I have little regard for those who would care to generate benefits and rewards without putting ‘skin’ in the game. I respect individuals who are willing to expend the effort, the values, and the capital to grow an ownership stake in an enterprise. Wall Street boards and management need to take a full and honest accounting of their firms on these fronts.

Any business enterprise can be chock full of tremendous effort, pristine values, and employee capital but still fail. Other enterprises can have an abundance of some of these qualities and still fail. For example, the employees of both Bear Stearns and Lehman owned in excess of 30% of their respective firms. Despite those ownership stakes, the excessive greed of senior management within those institutions along with outsized risks brought those once proud firms to their knees. All this said, any enterprise which puts more ‘skin in the game’ has added incentive to more aggressively and prudently manage franchise risk. To this end, welcome to the debate centering on Wall Street compensation practices.

I am not in favor of the government dictating compensation practices. However, if boards willfully neglect their corporate governance responsibilities then those institutions should be subject to aggressive capital regulations and restrictions. I do not pretend to think these compensation issues are easily addressed, but they are part and parcel of the Uncle Sam economy.

I addressed this topic on August 21st in writing “Will Goldman Sachs Be Bulls, Bears, or Pigs?” In that post, I wrote specifically of Goldman’s compensation, but my premise would hold for all Wall Street banks. I continue to maintain;

The fact is the public sees Goldman specifically and Wall Street in general benefitting from taxpayer dollars injected into the system along with a host of Fed and Treasury programs. While Goldman has paid back its TARP funds, they have still benefitted from financing backed by the FDIC. Moreso than direct benefits to the firm, Goldman has clearly benefitted indirectly from the gamut of Uncle Sam’s largesse.

Uncle Sam clearly has a large amount of ’skin in the game.’ Goldman can address its image and burgeoning reputation problem by increasing its own ’skin in the game.’ How can they achieve this? They should compensate employees in stock to a much greater extent and have that stock vest over a longer time period.

Typically, senior executives, traders, and bankers are paid approximately 35% in stock and the stock would vest over a three year time frame. As such, individuals would typically have one year’s worth of compensation tied up in the firm.

Let’s see Goldman pay people 65-70% in stock and have it vest over a 5 to 6 year time frame. If Goldman is concerned about losing people, that pay structure would serve as a real disincentive for other firms to hire Goldman people. Make no mistake, Goldman employees would NOT be happy to be paid in this format . . . BUT there would be plenty of people on Wall Street who would take that pay structure right now to work at Goldman Sachs.

Goldman has the opportunity through this bonus cycle to display whether they are bulls, bears, or pigs.

Holding this position, I was pleased to read this morning Wall Street Needs More Skin In the Game by Peter Weinberg, a founding partner of Perella Weinberg and former Goldman Sachs partner. Weinberg writes:

The debate about bonuses and Wall Street pay rages on, and for good reason. Compensation is a complex issue that is essential to managing systemic risk. The asymmetrical structure of pay packages—a “heads I win, tails I win less” approach—was wrong. But overly prescriptive government intervention to solve the problem poses its own challenges and might not help us get the incentives right, either. So what can we do?

Here are two ideas that could help us replicate the discipline instilled by the old pay packages of private partnerships:

First, institute what is called a “10/20/30/40” plan. Under such a plan, junior employees would receive regular competitive pay, but senior employees would be paid as follows: 10% of annual compensation in cash now; 20% of annual compensation in cash later; 30% of annual compensation in stock now (with a required holding period); and 40% of annual compensation in stock later.

“Now” means paid immediately at the end of a compensation period. “Later” means after a period during which a cycle can be evaluated. During that evaluation, the firm’s compensation committee would perform a “look back” in which it can adjust the award or leave it at a predetermined level. This function should not be used to micromanage past bonuses but simply to make sure success in a specific year was still viewed to be success in hindsight.

Under this program, 60% of the compensation would vest over a longer time frame. As much as I would not have personally liked this system when I worked on Wall Street, people need to accept that the industry has changed. Weinberg continues:

Second, create a “Skin in the Game” plan. When an executive or a senior employee manages a trading or asset-management business which can be measured by its own profit and loss statement, those executives or employees should invest a significant amount of their own capital in that business or fund. The compensation committee of the company’s board would determine who qualifies for this plan and the definition of a material commitment.

Well done, Mr. Weinberg. I commend you. Where are your Wall Street colleagues to implement these recommendations?

LD

Sarkozy Ups the Ante on Banker Compensation

Posted by Larry Doyle on August 26th, 2009 9:26 AM |

French President Nicolas Sarkozy

French President Nicolas Sarkozy

How is it that the country that is supposed to be the bastion of capitalism and free enterprise is taking serious direction on the topic of banker compensation from none other than French President Nicolas Sarkozy? The fact that Sarkozy is elevating the banker compensation topic prior to the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh in September is a clear indication that the powers that be in Washington and on Wall Street have failed miserably on this topic.

There is NO doubt those on Wall Street would like to return to ‘business as usual’ as quickly as possible. Little do the Wall Street wizards appreciate that the ‘usual business’ brought our country to its knees. Let’s address the ultimate motivator, that is, compensation.

Wall Street’s initial response to potential increased oversight of the compensation process has been to increase salaries as an overall percentage of compensation. From a productivity standpoint, I view this maneuver as counterproductive. Increased salaries will increase fixed costs and actually serve as a disincentive. The fact is compensation needs to be viewed in its entirety, both salary and bonus. The entire process should not be gamed by firms to appease regulators.

Bloomberg highlights French President Sarkozy’s approach toward banker compensation in writing, Sarkozy Threat to Shun Banks on Pay Draws U.S. Alarm:

Aug. 26 (Bloomberg) — French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plan to shun bankers who don’t accept pay limits was met with alarm by analysts and investors in the U.S., where Citigroup Inc. and six other bailed-out companies are being grilled by the government on how they compensate top-paid executives.

I am definitely not for strict government control of private enterprise compensation; however, if the boards of these private enterprises are not performing to protect the industry, the franchises, and the shareholders, then those boards need to be exposed. From my standpoint, the boards are a large part of the problem. Why? The boards are in the pocket of the senior executives. The senior executives have shown themselves to be excessively greedy and disinterested in protecting the industry and, in turn, our country.

Moving right along, I have always maintained that Wall Street banks must be obligated to fully align compensation with returns generated and risks remaining on the books. What do I mean? (more…)

Wall Street Compensation Collusion

Posted by Larry Doyle on July 30th, 2009 2:44 PM |

Gaining market intelligence is one thing. Colluding with market participants in business practices is an entirely different issue. The Wall Street compensation process has always operated dangerously close to that line, and would appear to have gone over it in 2008.

This potentially collusive practice is easily disguised in the midst of excessive profitability, but is blatantly obvious when revenues disappear. The Wall Street Journal highlights this practice in writing Banks Paid Big Bonuses as Profits Slid:

Several of the banks hit hardest by the economic downturn and those that got the most U.S. government aid nonetheless handed out huge bonuses to hundreds of employees last year, according to New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

Many of the banks that took money from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Troubled Asset Relief Program had been saying they wanted to pay it back as soon as possible, largely because of restrictions put on compensation that came with the funds.

Many of the banks have already paid the money back, but some, such as Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc., haven’t yet done so. Mr. Cuomo said his office has been investigating compensation at many of the banks, including the original nine banks that took TARP funds, over the past nine months. The study refers to 2008 bonuses — those that would have been paid before any of the banks repaid their government bailout money. (more…)

10yr Treasury Auction and Wall Street Compensation!

Posted by Larry Doyle on June 10th, 2009 12:56 PM |

In 10 minutes time, Wall Street will underwrite $19 billion 10yr notes. In the face of this supply, a major topic on the agenda today is Wall Street compensation.

Secretary Geithner announced earlier today that the SEC would be involved in crafting “say on pay” legislation. This legislation will focus on trying to align risk and compensation, providing greater disclosure on compensation, and creating proper incentives within the financial industry. The devil will be in the details.

Make no mistake, though, the focus on this issue will serve to lessen overall compensation.

Will Wall Street send a message to Washington that they are not happy with this proposal? How might they do that?

Fade their bids on the 10yr auction. That is, lower the price on the auction thus charging Uncle Sam a higher rate of interest.

Check back shortly and I will report on auction results.

As of 12:55pm, the 10yr Treasury note is trading at a 3.95% rate, which is higher by approximately 5 basis points relative to last evening’s closing level.

LD

***UPDATE AS OF 1:05PM
AUCTION RESULTS and MARKET REACTION:

The 10yr auction did “tail” and was underwritten at a 3.99%. The “bid to cover” ratio was a very respectable 2.62 times. That said, the bidders priced in a healthy discount to buy these notes.

The higher Treasury rate will clearly have a knock on effect across all sectors of the bond market but especially the mortgage market. As rates move higher, the affordability of mortgages and housing overall lessens. To this end, mortgage applications fell last month.

Nobody on the street would ever open Pandora’s Box and openly confess to fading a bid on Uncle Sam. That said, I view today’s price action as providing a hint that the Wall Street crowd is not happy with Washington.

Wall Street will have another opportunity to express their displeasure tomorrow as Uncle Sam will be selling $11billion 30yr bonds.

How is the equity market responding to these higher rates? Earlier today the major market equity averages were higher by 1%. We have seen a complete reversal of that upward move and they are now down by 1% on the day.

Lots of hills, valleys, and undulations as we navigate the economic landscape!!

LD

For more on why interest rates continue their move higher, please also read:

The Wheels Have Come Off Barack’s Bond Bus

Is the Government Bond Bubble Gettiing Ready to Burst?

Throwing the Baby Out with the Bath Water!!

Posted by Larry Doyle on March 20th, 2009 3:12 PM |

I questioned a Wall Street friend of mine this morning whether Washington in general and the Obama administration and Democratic Congress specifically could be so myopic or actually are so calculating in attempting to enact legislation that would impose tax rates of 70-90% on certain Wall Street employees. My friend quickly responded that the Washington crowd is not that smart.

Make no mistake, the proposed legislation of taxing certain Wall Street employees at 70-90% rates is targeted at addressing public outrage over improperly allocated compensation. However, Washington is utilizing a bazooka when in fact they need a laser.

In so doing, the politicians pushing this legislation are showing themselves to be misinformed and misaligned in understanding the basic tenets of capitalism and free market principles. (more…)

Wall Street’s New Mousetrap?

Posted by Larry Doyle on March 17th, 2009 11:33 AM |

Populist outrage is growing at the egregious bonus payments made at firms which took government money. Not every firm voluntarily took government money and, in my opinion, should not be restricted by government controls over bonus payments. However, the entry of the government into the financial industry is quickly creating a sea change in Wall Street’s outlook on compensation.

Is Wall Street working on building a better mousetrap to sidestep the government’s involvement? You can bet on it.  Wall Street Pursues Pay Loopholes highlights some of the early maneuvers firms are looking to make to address this issue. (more…)






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