Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bonus Time: You Give, Wall St. Takes

For most workers, the year-end bonus no longer exists, having gone the way of company-paid holiday parties and gift turkeys. Indeed, such Yuletide Cheer is rare, except on Wall Street, which is licking its collective chops in anticipation of yet another round of big annual payouts.
And why not? Extra effort means extra pay. And no group has worked harder at bringing down the economy and forcing a massive taxpayer-backed rescue plan than Wall Street's rat pack of wheeler-dealers, incompetents, and nogoodniks.
Merry Christmas, folks.
It's not clear yet how deep the "bonus pool" will be. But looking at the year-to-date compensation estimates, count on it being pretty cavernous. One estimate of Wall Street pay, bonus and related costs goes up to $70 billion this year.
Whatever the ultimate number, we all get the honor of pitching in. Remember your government is initially investing $250 billion into shoring up the nation's largest banks, including that longtime bonus-leader Goldman Sachs & Co. It's all part of the fed's $700 billion master rescue plan.
For many of us the real question isn't how much Wall Streeters will be getting but why are they getting anything extra at all?
In the past when an investment bank made money, the bonus checks were passed out like candy. But now, as the traditional investment banking industry is being wiped off the face of the earth, wouldn't it be prudent to back off?
Apparently not.
Goldman is poised to hand out about $11 billion in compensation and bonuses, while Morgan Stanley is set to distribute nearly $10 billion. Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Merrill Lynch will be doing their bonus thing, too.
This redistribution of wealth comes while each of these financial services companies are getting ample cash infusions from the taxpayer-backed rescue plan, courtesy of Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson (who is a former Goldman chief).
Obviously, solvency isn't a requirement for getting a bonus. And forget about profitability--that's out the window, too. Instead, investment banks argue that big bonuses are needed to keep the crucial "talent" on board.
Really? You mean with Wall Street expected to cut 50,000-plus jobs in this downturn,companies are still concerned about losing key staff to rivals?
And what type of "talent" is being bought off?
Are these the same big brains who developed the sub prime mortgage market, credit swaps, and other obscure financial plays that are crippling the global economy and taking down Main Street?
In spite of everything that's happened, Wall Street hubris is alive and well.Everyone is making due with less. Much less. So why should an industry that's taken a huge role in bringing about a worldwide economic crisis still be allowed to adhere to its outdated standards as if nothing wrong has happened?
Yes, I know there's many innocent victims on Wall Street, people who went to work everyday and kept their noses clean. And I hate the idea of the government stepping in to control wages and bonuses.
But Wall Street is playing with our money now, so different rules and regulations must apply.
Hey, we'll gladly give up our holiday turkeys, provided Wall Street stops flipping us the bird.