Wednesday, November 05, 2008

NY Fed hires former Bear Stearns chief risk officer

Tue Nov 4, 2008 9:29am EST

NEW YORK, Nov 4 (Reuters) - The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has hired the former chief risk officer of Bear Stearns Cos, Michael Alix, to advise on bank supervision, according to a release in the Fed's Web site.

Alix will serve as a senior advisor to William Rutledge in the Bank Supervision Group and his appointment is effective Nov. 3, according to the release dated Oct. 31

At Bear Stearns, an investment bank that collapsed in March and has become hallmark of the global credit crisis, Alix served as chief risk officer from 2006 to 2008 and global head of credit risk management from 1996 to 2006.

Morgan Stanley's Bonuses Get Saved By You and Me: Jonathan Weil

Commentary by Jonathan Weil

Oct. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Wall Street had it wrong: An investment bank's most precious asset isn't the army of employees who head down the elevators each day. It's the paychecks they take with them out the door.

You can imagine the devilish grins on the faces of Morgan Stanley employees last week, after the Treasury Department said it would pump $10 billion into the bank. Not only did we, the taxpayers, save their company, with the help of a Japanese bank named Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc. More importantly, we funded their 2008 bonus pool.

Morgan Stanley has accrued $10.7 billion of employee- compensation expense this year, almost twice as much as its pretax earnings. The vast majority of this remuneration hasn't been paid yet. Now it probably will be, assuming the firm survives through next month. Meantime, Morgan Stanley's stock- market value has dropped $34.7 billion, to $21 billion, since the company's fiscal year began.

The rescue of Morgan Stanley's bonus pool is an unpleasant downside of Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson's decision to inject $250 billion of cash into U.S. banks in exchange for preferred stock. It is one thing for a company to pay much more to employees than it earns for its shareholders. It's quite another to keep doing it while receiving taxpayer bailout bucks.

Before securities firms were public companies, a brokerage in need of capital would have called on its partners to pony up. That's how it still works at private partnerships, such as law firms. The reason they don't get taxpayer rescues is they can't credibly threaten to take down the world's financial system.

Global Threats

Morgan Stanley can. So can Paulson's old firm, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which also is getting a $10 billion infusion from Treasury. Year-to-date, Goldman has reported $11.4 billion of compensation expense, almost twice its $5.9 billion of pretax earnings. During the same span, its market capitalization has fallen $41.7 billion, to $57.7 billion.

Morgan Stanley needed Treasury's cash. Goldman didn't, but got it anyway. As long as Paulson can't think of any better ideas, the government will keep throwing money at an industry that pays too many people more than they're worth, to perform services the world has too much of already. The bright side is we avoid a global meltdown, for now.

Here's all you really need to know to see who lost and who benefited most at the Five Families of Wall Street, otherwise known as Goldman, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns. From the start of their 2004 fiscal years through yesterday, the big standalone investment banks lost about $83 billion of stock-market value. During the same period, they reported about $239 billion of employee-compensation expense.

Lined Pockets

So, for every dollar of shareholder value destroyed, the employees got paid almost three. Only a sliver of that money went to chief executives such as Goldman's Lloyd Blankfein, who got a $70.3 million package last year, and Lehman's Richard Fuld, who made $34.4 million. Morgan Stanley's John Mack, by the way, received $1.6 million for 2007.

The Five Families -- now down to just Goldman and Morgan Stanley -- weren't alone. Citigroup Inc., which is getting a $25 billion injection from Treasury, has reported $139.3 billion of compensation expense since the start of 2004, more than double its $62.8 billion of pretax earnings. Its market cap, by comparison, has declined by about $168 billion, to $82 billion.

For all the complaints about outrageous executive pay and how little Paulson is doing to curb it, a big reason why these firms have been scrounging for capital is they keep blowing huge wads of it on their rank-and-file, too. The Paulson plan will do nothing to change that.

In the interim, we continue propping up an industry that's bloated with overcapacity, because we're all too scared to let the market fix it. That's good for the people getting bonus checks at Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs. It's not so great for the rest of us.

Goldman partners’ reduced

By Greg Farrell in New York

Published: October 29 2008 20:37 | Last updated: October 29 2008 20:37

Goldman Sachs unveiled its new class of 94 partners, proving that even in the most tumultuous times on Wall Street, the company’s biannual ritual of bringing up-and-comers to its innermost circle would continue.

The class will join Goldman’s elite at a time when a partnership at the firm is no longer a guarantee of a multi-million payday. By the end of this year, the bank’s 349 partners stand to divvy up the smallest bonus pool that Goldman has produced, on a per capita basis, since going public in 1999.

While Goldman was willing to confirm the announcement of the partners, it would not comment on the other biannual tradition that goes hand-in-hand with the process: the “de-partnering” of a comparable number of its partner-managing directors.

The bank tries to keep the number of partners at about 1 per cent of employees.

At the end of the third quarter, the firm had 349 partners and 32,600 employees worldwide. With plans to lay off some 10 per cent of its workforce, Goldman will probably try to hold its number of partners at its current level, or shrink it slightly.

That means that with the addition of 94 names in December, the new total of 443 partners will have to be reduced, through attrition and the removal of the designation of “partner” from close to 100 members of the inner circle.

Charles Ellis, author of The Partnership, The Making of Goldman Sachs, likens the culling process to a Darwinian exercise. “It’s entirely rational, ruthless and unemotional,” he says. “There’s no softness and no sentiment to it. The firm just gets the best people and empowers them. Some people react badly to that, but it’s survival of the fittest.”

In many ways, Ellis says, Goldman’s focus on recruiting the best people, promoting them and pushing them ever harder, is what separates it from its rivals. “At most places, once you become a partner, you have tenure,” he says. “You’re a superstar. At Goldman Sachs, that’s not it. You’re expected to accelerate.”

For the first three quarters of 2008, Goldman has reported profits of $4.4bn, down by almost half from last year’s sum. According to SEC filings, it has set aside $11.4bn for pay and benefits, (from the bailout money) a decline of 32 per cent over 2007. Barring a big change in the firm’s performance, the current partners can expect bonuses, on the average, of $1m or less, according to people familiar with the matter.

Goldman Sachs ready to hand out £7bn salary and bonus package... after its £6bn bail-out

By Simon Duke
Last updated at 8:55 AM on 30th October 2008

U.S. investment bank Goldman Sachs HQ which has set aside £7bn for bonuses and salaries this year

Goldman Sachs is on course to pay its top City bankers multimillion-pound bonuses - despite asking the U.S. government for an emergency bail-out.

The struggling Wall Street bank has set aside £7billion for salaries and 2008 year-end bonuses, it emerged yesterday.

Each of the firm's 443 partners is on course to pocket an average Christmas bonus of more than £3million.

The size of the pay pool comfortably dwarfs the £6.1billion lifeline which the U.S. government is throwing to Goldman as part of its £430billion bail-out.

As Washington pours money into the bank, the cash will immediately be channelled to Goldman's already well-heeled employees.

News of the firm's largesse will revive the anger over the 'rewards for failure' culture endemic in the world of high finance.

The same bankers who have brought the global economy to its knees seem to pocketing the same kind of rewards they got during the boom years.

Gordon Brown has vowed to crack down on the culture of greed in the City as part of his £500billion bail-out of the UK banking industry.

But that won't affect the estimated 100 London partners working at Goldman Sachs's London headquarters.

The firm - known as Golden Sacks for the bumper bonuses it pay its top bankers - is expected to cut the payouts by a third this year. However, profits are

falling much faster. Earnings have plunged 47 per cent so far this year amid the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

This has wiped more than 50 per cent off the company's market value.

The news comes after it was revealed that even bankers working for collapsed Wall Street giant, Lehman Brothers, could receive huge payouts.

Its 10,000 U.S. staff are expected to share a £1.5billion bonus pool. The payouts were agreed as part of the rescue takeover of Lehman's American arm by Barclays last month.

The blockbuster handouts caused consternation among London employees of the firm, many of whom have now lost their jobs.

Even workers at the nationalised Northern Rock will scoop bonuses worth up to £50million over the next three years.

The extraordinary handouts include more than £400,000 for Rock's boss, Gary Hoffman, who is likely to become Britain's best-paid public sector worker.

The majority of Northern Rock's 4,000 workers will receive four separate bonus payments - the first of

which will be made next March. Staff will get an extra 10 per cent on top of their basic salary.

Lloyds TSB also intends to pay its employees bonuses despite taking a £5.5 billion emergency cash injection from the taxpayer.

News of Goldman's bonus plan came as the firm promoted 92 of its bankers to partner level. A quarter are based in Fleet Street, London.

Partnership is the holy grail of the investment banking world as the exclusive club shares around a fifth of the firm's total bonus pool.

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo last night warned that Wall Street firms taking government-money risk breaking the law if they hand the cash straight back to employees.

Cash-strapped workers are being penalised by pay rises which are far below the soaring cost of living, research reveals today.

Despite inflation soaring to a 16-year-high of 5.2 per cent, the average worker got a pay rise of just 3.8 per cent in September.

The research, from the pay specialists Incomes Data Services, highlights the financial problems facing millions of workers.

Most of their household bills, particularly food and fuel, are rocketing by up to 35 per cent. However, their meagre pay rise does not begin to cover the extra cost.

The majority of the 50 pay settlements investigated by IDS were in the private sector covering around 1.1million employees.

They range from just 2 per cent for workers at the BBC to 5.3 per cent for workers at a firm of dockyard workers.

Incomes Data Services warned pay rises are likely to fall even further over the coming year as inflation is expected to drop sharply.

Economists predict inflation will fall below the Government's 2 per cent target next year.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Effectiveness of AIG's $143 Billion Rescue Questioned

By Carol D. Leonnig

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 3, 2008; A18

A number of financial experts now fear that the federal government's $143 billion attempt to rescue troubled insurance giant American International Group may not work, and some argue that company shareholders and taxpayers would have been better served by a bankruptcy filing.

The Treasury Department leapt to keep AIG from going bankrupt on Sept. 16, and in the past seven weeks, AIG has drawn down $90 billion in federal bailout loans. But some key AIG players argue that bankruptcy would have offered more structure and greater protections during a time of intense market volatility.

AIG declined to comment on the matter.

Echoing some other experts, Ann Rutledge, a credit derivatives expert and founding principal of R&R Consulting, said she is not sure how badly the financial system would have been rocked if the government had let AIG file for bankruptcy protection. But she fears that the government is papering over the problem with a quick fix that was not well planned.

"What we see now are a lot of games by the government to keep these institutions going with a lot of cash," she said. "This is to fill holes in companies' balance sheets, and they're trying to hold at bay the charges that our financial system is insolvent."

The deal that the Treasury and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York pressed upon AIG was intended to stop any domino effect of financial institutions falling because of their business ties to AIG. The rescue allowed AIG to provide cash to huge banks and other players who had invested in rapidly souring mortgages insured by the company.

Early this year, investors had begun privately demanding that AIG pay off its billion-dollar guarantees. But in mid-September, when the demands for cash reached a public crescendo, AIG had to admit that it didn't have enough cash on hand to meet the obligations.

In the first weeks of its federal rescue, AIG has used the loan money to post collateral demanded by these firms, sources close to those deals say.

"No one else benefits," former AIG chief executive and major shareholder Maurice R. "Hank" Greenberg wrote to AIG's current chief executive on Thursday. "Unless there is immediate change to the structure of the Federal loan, the American taxpayer will likely suffer a significant financial loss."

Another concern is that in this depressed market, AIG, and the taxpayers that now own 80 percent of the company, will lose coming and going.

The company may be forced to borrow additional federal funds for rising payouts to counterparties. Neither the government nor AIG is releasing information about the specific amounts paid to individual firms, but numerous credit experts say that the value of those mortgage assets is probably declining every week. That means AIG has to pay a higher price as part of its guarantees.

The company also may be forced to sell many more assets at low, fire-sale prices. As part of its loan deal, AIG was to sell some assets -- valued at $1 trillion before the crisis -- to raise cash to pay off the loan.

AIG's Financial Products division is the primary villain in the company's free-fall. It made tens of billions of disastrously bad bets on mortgage investments but may not have carefully hedged those bets or properly estimated its risk. The company's rapid burn of $90 billion also suggests that it grossly undervalued its obligations to counterparties in a worst-case scenario.

In February, internal notes show, board members discussed a growing dispute between AIG Financial Products and Goldman Sachs about the value of those assets when Goldman called for AIG to post collateral. AIG's chief financial officer warned of "Goldman's acknowledged desire to obtain as much cash as possible." But AIG's external accountants warned that it was they who alerted management to the dispute, not AIG Financial Products, and that the division was not properly considering the market in its pricing.

Rutledge warns that because there has been no public disclosure of AIG's payments to counterparties, it is impossible to know whether the pricing it is using now is proper.

The Federal Reserve and its advisers have acknowledged privately that things are not going according to plan.

As AIG has rapidly eaten through the loan money, the Fed has twice expanded its original $85 billion bailout -- which itself was the largest government bailout of a private company in U.S. history. Earlier last month, the Fed reluctantly gave AIG $38 billion more in credit for securities lending to try to keep the firm from drawing down its first Fed loan too quickly.

Then on Thursday, the Fed agreed to let AIG borrow $20 billion from a larger commercial paper bailout fund it had set up days earlier for all institutions that lend money to each other.

If the company had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, AIG could have frozen the crippling collateral calls, and shareholders would have had a chance at recovering some value from the company's 80 percent drop in stock price from earlier this year, said Lee Wolosky, a lawyer for AIG's largest shareholder, Starr International.

"AIG is nothing more than a pass-through being charged 14 percent interest," Wolosky said. "Company assets are eroding on a daily basis; asset sales have not begun and can only be at fire-sale prices in the current market. "

But David Schiff of Schiff's Insurance Observer said he could not see how bankruptcy would have been a better solution.

"The point isn't to save AIG; it's to save the U.S. financial system. I think they were afraid to find out who else goes under if you let AIG fail," he said. "But right now, no one knows if this is going to work."

The Bush gang's parting gift: a final, frantic looting of public wealth

The US bail-out amounts to a strings-free, public-funded windfall for big business. Welcome to no-risk capitalism

In the final days of the election many Republicans seem to have given up the fight for power. But don't be fooled: that doesn't mean they are relaxing. If you want to see real Republican elbow grease, check out the energy going into chucking great chunks of the $700bn bail-out out the door. At a recent Senate banking committee hearing, the Republican Bob Corker was fixated on this task, and with a clear deadline in mind: inauguration. "How much of it do you think may be actually spent by January 20 or so?" Corker asked Neel Kashkari, the 35-year-old former banker in charge of the bail-out.

When European colonialists realised that they had no choice but to hand over power to the indigenous citizens, they would often turn their attention to stripping the local treasury of its gold and grabbing valuable livestock. If they were really nasty, like the Portuguese in Mozambique in the mid-1970s, they poured concrete down the elevator shafts.

Nothing so barbaric for the Bush gang. Rather than open plunder, it prefers bureaucratic instruments, such as "distressed asset" auctions and the "equity purchase program". But make no mistake: the goal is the same as it was for the defeated Portuguese - a final, frantic looting of the public wealth before they hand over the keys to the safe.

How else to make sense of the bizarre decisions that have governed the allocation of the bail-out money? When the Bush administration announced it would be injecting $250bn into US banks in exchange for equity, the plan was widely referred to as "partial nationalisation" - a radical measure required to get banks lending again. Henry Paulson, the treasury secretary, had seen the light, we were told, and was following the lead of Gordon Brown.

In fact, there has been no nationalisation, partial or otherwise. American taxpayers have gained no meaningful control over the banks, which is why the banks are free to spend the new money as they wish. At Morgan Stanley, it looks as if much of the windfall will cover this year's bonuses. Citigroup has been hinting it will use its $25bn buying other banks, while John Thain, the chief executive of Merrill Lynch, told analysts: "At least for the next quarter, it's just going to be a cushion." The US government, meanwhile, is reduced to pleading with the banks that they at least spend a portion of the taxpayer windfall for loans - officially, the reason for the entire programme.

What, then, is the real purpose of the bail-out? My fear is this rush of dealmaking is something much more ambitious than a one-off gift to big business: that the Bush version of "partial nationalisation" is rigged to turn the US treasury into a bottomless cash machine for the banks for years to come. Remember, the main concern among the big market players, particularly banks, is not the lack of credit but their battered share prices. Investors have lost confidence in the honesty of the big financial players, and with good reason.

This is where the treasury's equity pays off big time. By purchasing stakes in these financial institutions, the treasury is sending a signal to the market that they are a safe bet. Why safe? Not because their level of risk has been accurately assessed at last. Not because they have renounced the kind of exotic instruments and outrageous leverage rates that created the crisis. But because the market will now be banking on the fact that the US government won't let these particular companies fail. If they get themselves into trouble, investors will now assume that the government will keep finding more cash to bail them out, since allowing them to go down would mean losing the initial equity investments, many of them in the billions. (Just look at the insurance giant AIG, which has already gone back to taxpayers for a top-up, and seems likely to ask for a third.)

This tethering of the public interest to private companies is the real purpose of the bail-out plan: Paulson is handing all the companies admitted to the programme - a number potentially in the thousands - an implicit treasury department guarantee. To skittish investors looking for safe places to park their money, these equity deals will be even more comforting than a triple-A from Moody's rating agency.

Insurance like that is priceless. But for the banks, the best part is that the government is paying them to accept its seal of approval. For taxpayers, on the other hand, this entire plan is extremely risky, and may well cost significantly more than Paulson's original idea of buying up $700bn in toxic debts. Now taxpayers aren't just on the hook for the debts but, arguably, for the fate of every corporation that sells them equity.

Interestingly, mortgage fund giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac both enjoyed this kind of unspoken guarantee before they were nationalised at the start of this crisis. For decades the market understood that, since these private players were enmeshed with the government, Uncle Sam could be counted on to always save the day. It was, as many have pointed out, the worst of all worlds. Not only were profits privatised while risks were socialised, but the implicit government backing created powerful incentives for reckless business practices.

With the new equity purchase programme Paulson has taken the discredited Fannie and Freddie model and applied it to a huge swath of the private banking industry. Again, there is no reason to shy away from risky bets, especially since the treasury has made no such demands of the banks (apparently it doesn't want to "micromanage".)

To further boost market confidence, the federal government has also unveiled unlimited public guarantees for many bank deposit accounts. Oh, and as if this were not enough, the treasury has been encouraging the banks to merge, ensuring that the only institutions left will be "too big to fail", thereby guaranteed a bail-out. In three ways, the market is being told loud and clear that Washington will not allow the financial institutions to bear the consequences of their behaviour. This may be Bush's most creative innovation: no-risk capitalism.

There is a glimmer of hope. In answer to Senator Corker's question, the treasury is indeed having trouble dispersing the bail-out funds. So far it has requested about $350bn of the $700bn, but most of this hasn't yet made it out the door. Meanwhile, every day it becomes clearer that the bail-out was sold to the public on false pretences. Clearly, it was never really about getting loans flowing. It was always about doing what it is doing: turning the state into a giant insurance agency for Wall Street, a safety net for the people who need it least, subsidised by the people who will most need state protections in the economic storms ahead.

This duplicity is a political opportunity. Whoever wins on November 4 will have enormous moral authority. It should be used to call for a freeze on the dispersal of bail-out funds, not after the inauguration but right away. All deals should be renegotiated, this time with the public getting the guarantees.

It is risky, of course, to interrupt the bail-out process. Nothing could be riskier, however, than allowing the Bush gang their parting gift to big business - the gift that will keep on taking.