Merrill Lynch Made 700 People Millionaires in 3.6 Billion Dollar Bonus Spree

Merrill bonuses made 696 millionaires: probe

02/12/2009 @ 8:28 am

Agence France-Presse

via RAW STORY

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WASHINGTON (AFP) – Merrill Lynch quietly paid out at least one million dollars bonus each to about 700 top executive even when the investment house was bleeding with losses last year, a probe has revealed.

They were part of 3.6 billion dollars in the firm’s bonus payments in December before the announcement of its fourth quarterly losses and takeover by Bank of America, the investigation by the New York state Attorney General’s office showed.

“696 individuals received bonuses of one million dollars or more,” New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said of the Merrill scandal in a letter to a lawmaker heading the House of Representatives financial services committee.

Cuomo said “these payments and their curious timing raise serious questions as to whether the Merrill Lynch and Bank of America boards of directors were derelict in their duties and violated their fiduciary obligations,” according to a copy of the letter.

Bank of America said recently it was aware of the amounts and timing of the bonuses even though previous reports had suggested the top bank was surprised by the payout.

Cuomo said in his letter to Democratic lawmaker Barney Frank that his office was also examining whether senior officials at both companies “violated their own fiduciary obligations to shareholders.

“If they did, this raises additional serious issues with regard to the inappropriate use of taxpayer funds,” he said.

“Merrill Lynch’s decision to secretly and prematurely award approximately 3.6 billion dollars in bonuses, and Bank of America’s apparent complicity in it, raise serious and disturbing questions,” he said.

Shareholders and experts had expressed concern over Merrill’s 15.3 billion fourth-quarter loss, which caused Bank of America to request a second round of government bailout on January 16.

Bank of America’s shareholders voted to approve Merrill’s takeover on December 5.

Former Merrill Lynch chief executive John Thain, Bank of America chief administrative officer J. Steele Alphin and other top executives have been summoned to provide testimony in the probe.

“One disturbing question that must be answered is whether Merrill Lynch and Bank of America timed the bonuses in such a way as to force taxpayers to pay for them through the deal funding,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo said the Merrill Lynch bonus payment was “nothing short of staggering.”

While more than 39,000 Merrill employees received bonuses from the pool, the vast majority of these funds were “disproportionately distributed to a small number of individuals.”

“Indeed, Merrill chose to make millionaires out of a select group of 700 employees.”

Paul Krugman: “On the Edge”

February 6, 2009
Op-Ed Columnist
On the Edge

A not-so-funny thing happened on the way to economic recovery. Over the last two weeks, what should have been a deadly serious debate about how to save an economy in desperate straits turned, instead, into hackneyed political theater, with Republicans spouting all the old clichés about wasteful government spending and the wonders of tax cuts.

It’s as if the dismal economic failure of the last eight years never happened — yet Democrats have, incredibly, been on the defensive. Even if a major stimulus bill does pass the Senate, there’s a real risk that important parts of the original plan, especially aid to state and local governments, will have been emasculated.

Somehow, Washington has lost any sense of what’s at stake — of the reality that we may well be falling into an economic abyss, and that if we do, it will be very hard to get out again.

It’s hard to exaggerate how much economic trouble we’re in. The crisis began with housing, but the implosion of the Bush-era housing bubble has set economic dominoes falling not just in the United States, but around the world.

Consumers, their wealth decimated and their optimism shattered by collapsing home prices and a sliding stock market, have cut back their spending and sharply increased their saving — a good thing in the long run, but a huge blow to the economy right now. Developers of commercial real estate, watching rents fall and financing costs soar, are slashing their investment plans. Businesses are canceling plans to expand capacity, since they aren’t selling enough to use the capacity they have. And exports, which were one of the U.S. economy’s few areas of strength over the past couple of years, are now plunging as the financial crisis hits our trading partners.

Meanwhile, our main line of defense against recessions — the Federal Reserve’s usual ability to support the economy by cutting interest rates — has already been overrun. The Fed has cut the rates it controls basically to zero, yet the economy is still in free fall.

It’s no wonder, then, that most economic forecasts warn that in the absence of government action we’re headed for a deep, prolonged slump. Some private analysts predict double-digit unemployment. The Congressional Budget Office is slightly more sanguine, but its director, nonetheless, recently warned that “absent a change in fiscal policy … the shortfall in the nation’s output relative to potential levels will be the largest — in duration and depth — since the Depression of the 1930s.”

Worst of all is the possibility that the economy will, as it did in the ’30s, end up stuck in a prolonged deflationary trap.

We’re already closer to outright deflation than at any point since the Great Depression. In particular, the private sector is experiencing widespread wage cuts for the first time since the 1930s, and there will be much more of that if the economy continues to weaken.

As the great American economist Irving Fisher pointed out almost 80 years ago, deflation, once started, tends to feed on itself. As dollar incomes fall in the face of a depressed economy, the burden of debt becomes harder to bear, while the expectation of further price declines discourages investment spending. These effects of deflation depress the economy further, which leads to more deflation, and so on.

And deflationary traps can go on for a long time. Japan experienced a “lost decade” of deflation and stagnation in the 1990s — and the only thing that let Japan escape from its trap was a global boom that boosted the nation’s exports. Who will rescue America from a similar trap now that the whole world is slumping at the same time?

Would the Obama economic plan, if enacted, ensure that America won’t have its own lost decade? Not necessarily: a number of economists, myself included, think the plan falls short and should be substantially bigger. But the Obama plan would certainly improve our odds. And that’s why the efforts of Republicans to make the plan smaller and less effective — to turn it into little more than another round of Bush-style tax cuts — are so destructive.

So what should Mr. Obama do? Count me among those who think that the president made a big mistake in his initial approach, that his attempts to transcend partisanship ended up empowering politicians who take their marching orders from Rush Limbaugh. What matters now, however, is what he does next.

It’s time for Mr. Obama to go on the offensive. Above all, he must not shy away from pointing out that those who stand in the way of his plan, in the name of a discredited economic philosophy, are putting the nation’s future at risk. The American economy is on the edge of catastrophe, and much of the Republican Party is trying to push it over that edge.

Numerous Myths and Falsehoods Advanced by the Media in Their Coverage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

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Media Matters for America previously identified numerous myths and falsehoods advanced by the media in their coverage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. As debate on the bill continues in Congress, other myths and falsehoods advanced by the media about the recovery package have risen to prominence. These myths and falsehoods include: the assertion that the bill will not stimulate the economy — including the false assertion that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said the bill will not stimulate the economy; that spending in the bill is not stimulus; that there is no reason for stimulus after an economic turnaround begins; that corporate tax rate cuts and capital gains tax rate cuts would provide substantial stimulus; and that undocumented immigrants without Social Security numbers could receive the “Making Work Pay” tax credit provided in the bill.

1. The bill will not stimulate the economy

In a February 1 article, The Associated Press reported an assertion by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that the recovery bill will not stimulate the economy without noting that the CBO disagrees. ABC World News anchor Charles Gibson echoed this assertion during his February 3 interview with President Obama, stating: “And as you know, there’s a lot of people in the public, a lot of members of Congress who think this is pork-stuffed and that it really doesn’t stimulate.” Additionally, on the January 28 edition of his show, nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh allowed Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) to falsely claim of the bill: “Even the Congressional Budget Office, controlled by the Democrats now, says it is not a stimulative bill.” Fox News host Sean Hannity repeated this claim on the February 2 broadcast of Fox News’ Hannity, asserting that the CBO “say[s] it’s not a stimulus bill.”

In fact, in analyzing the House version of the bill, H.R. 1, and the proposed Senate version, the CBO stated that it expects both measures to “have a noticeable impact on economic growth and employment in the next few years.” Additionally, in his January 27 written testimony before the House Budget Committee, CBO director Douglas Elmendorf said that H.R. 1 would “provide massive fiscal stimulus that includes a combination of government spending increases and revenue reductions.” Elmendorf further stated: “In CBO’s judgment, H.R. 1 would provide a substantial boost to economic activity over the next several years relative to what would occur without any legislation.”

2. Government spending in the bill is not stimulus

Several media figures, including CNN correspondent Carol Costello, CBS Evening News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson, and ABC World News anchor Charles Gibson, have all uncritically reported or aired the Republican claim that, in Gibson’s words, “it’s a spending bill and not a stimulus,” without noting that economists have said that government spending is stimulus. Indeed, in his January 27 testimony, Elmendorf explicitly refuted the suggestion that some of the spending provisions in the bill would not have a stimulative effect, stating: “[I]n our estimation — and I think the estimation of most economists — all of the increase in government spending and all of the reduction in tax revenue provides some stimulative effect. People are put to work, receive income, spend that on something else. That puts somebody else to work.” Additionally, Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, has said, “[S]pending is stimulus. Any spending will generate jobs. It is that simple.”

3. There is no reason for stimulus after a turnaround begins [Read more…]

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