Monday, December 8, 2008

Wagoner Pressured to Resign, Thain Looking for Bonus

The front page of the Wall Street Journal rarely crackles with irony as much as today.  Clearly it was a fairly slow news day when two of the top stories revolve around CEOs.  Senator Chris Dodd is calling for Rick Wagoner's head (figuratively) if the government follows through with the billions in loans that GM has requested.  Meanwhile, in a separate, yet somehow completely related story, Merrill's John Thain is tussling with his board over a $10 million bonus, which he claims he deserves.  Mr. Thain believes that he saved the firm from imminent collapse by selling the company to Bank of America.  For this Herculean feat he is asking his (shocked? appalled? incredulous?) board for $10 million in comp.  I still firmly maintain, as I've stated many times before, that selling Merrill to B of A is not what averted the investment bank's collapse.  Sure, it was a shrewd move.  What saved Merrill was billions upon billions of financing from the Federal Reserve through a variety of new and unprecedented lending facilities, in addition to billions in direct capital injections from the Treasury.  Merrill's survival is due to actions by Ben Bernanke and Hank Paulson, not John Thain.  If Merrill's board is going to write a check to anyone, it should be to those two.      
Again, it is interesting that our lawmakers are even hesitating for a moment about helping the auto-industry, given how easily they showered their largesse over the banking system.  Furthermore, it is a bit hard to stomach that the bailouts were handed out to banks without any restrictions on dividends and pay.  The fact that Merrill's CEO is even thinking of asking his board for compensation in these politically charged times is unbelievable.  Even the heads Goldman Sachs, a firm that actually made money this year instead of losing billions like Merrill, gave up compensation.  Mr. Thain is demonstrating that what he lacks in common sense, he more than makes up for in cojones.    

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