New Bank Bonus Releases – Heads: Bankers Win, Tails : Taxpayers Lose

And more unsurprising news on the TARP front. Cuomo releases ugly details on bank bonuses:

NY Attorney General Andrew Cuomo released his report on bonuses at the TARP Top 9.  At these firms alone, over 800 people made north of $3 million in 2008.  That’s a lot of scharole.  See Appendix B for the bonus breakdown at each bank.

The key info is in one particular table, however:

(Click to enlarge in new window)


The columns to the right list the number of employees that received bonuses in excess of $3 mil/$2 mil/ $1 mil.

Banks that are still sitting on their TARP money (Citi, BofA, Wells among them) have no business paying out big bonuses before paying back the government. For that matter, neither do the others, who all continue to benefit from FDIC guarantees on debt and Fed lending facilities through which they’ve traded toxic loans in exchange for perfectly liquid Treasuries. They can use the Treasuries for repo collateral, get cash and then put that on deposit at the Fed where they now get paid interest on their excess reserves. It’s a great scam. One that feeds lots of cash into the 2009 bonus pool.

And GazetteOnline writes:

Citigroup Inc., one of the biggest recipients of government bailout money, gave employees $5.33 billion in bonuses for 2008, New York’s attorney general said Thursday in a report detailing the payouts by nine big banks.

The report from Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s office focused on 2008 bonuses paid to the initial nine banks that received loans under the government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program last fall. Cuomo has joined other government officials in criticizing the banks for paying out big bonuses while accepting taxpayer money.

Comparisons to historical payouts weren’t available, as the banks are not required to disclose the information publicly. They provided 2008 details to Cuomo’s office under subpoena.

Cuomo’s office found that the companies, which also included Bank of America Corp., Merrill Lynch & Co., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., awarded nearly 4,800 million-dollar-plus bonuses, with much of the money going to Wall Street investment bankers.

Citigroup, which is now one-third owned by the government as a result of the bailout, gave 738 of its employees bonuses of at least $1 million, even after it lost $18.7 billion during the year, Cuomo’s office said. The bank’s top four recipients received a combined $43.7 million.

The New York-based bank received $45 billion in government money and guarantees to protect it against hundreds of billions of dollars on potential losses from risky investments.

“There is no clear rhyme or reason to the way banks compensate and reward their employees,” Cuomo said in the report, noting banks have not in recent years actually tied pay to performance as they claim when describing their compensation programs. Cuomo added that when banks’ performance deteriorated significantly, “they were bailed out by taxpayers and their employees were still paid well.”

Bank of America, which also received $45 billion in TARP money, paid $3.3 billion in bonuses, with 172 employees receiving at least $1 million and the top four recipients receiving a combined $64 million. Merrill Lynch, which Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America acquired during the credit crisis, paid out $3.6 billion, including a combined $121 million to four top employees.

Bank of America earned $2.56 billion in 2008, while Merrill lost $30.48 billion. Cuomo’s office said Merrill Lynch doled out 696 bonuses of at least $1 million for 2008.

Bank of America has been sharply criticized for its acquisition of Merrill Lynch because of mounting losses at the Wall Street bank and the size of bonuses Merrill paid its employees. Of the $45 billion in bailout funds Bank of America received, $20 billion was to support the acquisition of Merrill. Neither Bank of America nor Citigroup have repaid their TARP loans.

A Bank of America spokesman declined to comment on the report. A spokesman for Citigroup did not return repeated calls for comment.

The truth is: The public has no business discussing and quarreling about how much banks decide to pay their employees in bonuses. Legislators had the choice to unconditionally reject the TARP bailout ripoff. Many tried to talks sense into people. They didn’t listen. They rewarded companies whose financial irresponsibility led them to collapse, so they could continue their adventures in screw-up land. What did they expect to see happen? Now these clowns are running around, trying to find scapegoats for their own incompetence and cluelessness. What a circus!

Paola Sapienza and Luigi Zingales appropriately call for the government to Stop Subsidizing the Street:

The word for “crisis” in Chinese, weiji, is written with two characters: one (wei) means danger; the other, ji, means opportunity. That’s because every crisis challenges the status quo and in so doing creates the opportunity for something new to emerge. “This process of Creative Destruction,” wrote economist Joseph Schumpeter, “is the essential fact about capitalism. It is what capitalism consists in and what every capitalist concern has got to live in.”

We have experienced the destruction wrought by the financial crisis. Now it’s time to focus on the opportunities it brings. The first place to look is the site of the greatest destruction: the banking sector. While finance will remain a pillar of a well-functioning economy, it’s unlikely that banking will survive for long in its current form. The current banking model is broken. Citigroup has been on the verge of failing in three of the last four downturns: This is hardly a viable business model.

Even more important is that Americans are rapidly losing trust in their banks. A survey we conducted at the end of March showed that only 29% of Americans trusted banks, down from 34% three months earlier and 42% a year ago. Twenty percent of respondents felt that a bank had cheated or misled them in the previous 12 months, while 10% had withdrawn their FDIC-insured deposits and squirreled away the cash. The word “credit,” speaking of telling etymologies, comes from the Latin credere, which means “to trust.” Trust is essential in banking, and it’s unlikely that banks can restore it. It’s always difficult to regain trust; it’s easier to start anew.

Luckily, starting anew is exactly what’s happening in the banking sector, with the launch of several start-ups with innovative ideas. They range from new ways to insure mortgages to new models of lending to reliable consumers by bypassing the current banking system. Many others, such as Lending Club and Prosper, are popping up on the Internet, letting investors, rather than credit officers, decide who is creditworthy. It’s too early to tell if these attempts will succeed, but it’s vital that they occur. Through trial and error, a new world of banking will rise from the ashes of the old one.

Should the government subsidize these efforts? In a New York Times column this spring, Tom Friedman said yes, suggesting that it should dedicate a fraction of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) money to promote innovation. Fortunately, several venture capitalists have rejected the idea online, and with good reason: The government’s record as a venture capitalist is rather poor.

Nevertheless, the government can foster the new and innovative in a crucial way: by ceasing to subsidize the banking dinosaurs. The evidence shows that subsidies to failing companies not only waste resources in keeping obsolete and inefficient firms alive, but also delay the entry of new and more efficient organizational models.

TARP was sold as a way to keep credit flowing, but it could wind up delaying the success of new ventures that could help revive credit in the economy. For finance to begin allocating resources efficiently again, the government must stop propping up Wall Street.

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Citigroup – CEO’s phony statement sparks phony rally

Yahoo Finance writes Dow ends up nearly 380 on Citigroup profit news:

Wall Street has had its best day of the year, storming higher after some good news from Citigroup. Citigroup Inc. says it operated at a profit during the first two months of the year. That energized financial stocks and in turn, the entire stock market. Surprised investors drove the major indexes up more than 5.5 percent to their biggest one-day rally of the year. The Dow Jones industrials shot up nearly 380 points.

However, many analysts are still cautious — noting that Wall Street has seen many blips higher since the credit crisis and recession began. Word of Citi’s performance broke a months-long torrent of bad news from the banking industry but analysts weren’t ready to say the stock market was at a turning point and about to barrel higher after a slide that’s lasted more than 16 months.

“To have a sustained rally, we have to have a shift in sentiment,” said Kurt Karl, chief U.S. economist at Swiss Re. “One day isn’t going to make a trend.”

Still, the Citigroup news offered investors some hope that the first quarter will show signs of improvement.

In a letter to employees Monday, Citi Chief Executive Vikram Pandit said the performance this year has been the bank’s best since the third quarter of 2007 — the last time it booked a profit for a full quarter. Based on historical revenue and expense rates, Citi’s projected earnings before taxes and one-time charges would be about $8.3 billion for the full quarter.

Pandit declined to say how large credit losses and other one-time items have been that would at least partially offset profit.

…which would be sort of interesting and/or relevant numbers to know if you’re proudly reporting a profit for the period in question.

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US Stake in Citi Won’t Fix a Darn Thing

Reuters writes New U.S. stake in Citigroup may not calm doubts:

Even if the government took a large common equity stake in Citigroup Inc, worries would likely persist about the bank’s ability to absorb soaring losses in a deepening recession.

The third-largest U.S. bank by assets is in talks with federal regulators on a plan for the government to increase its stake, a person familiar with the matter said. Converting $45 billion of preferred stock, which the government obtained last fall, to common stock is one of many options, the person said.

An agreement could be announced Monday or Tuesday, CNBC television said.

Citigroup shares rose on Monday after the White House repeated that President Barack Obama believes keeping banks in private hands is “the best way to go.

U.S. bank regulators, meanwhile, said they stood ready to provide more capital to the sector and keep “systemically important financial institutions” viable.

But investors remained worried that losses from credit cards, emerging markets, trading and toxic assets could overwhelm Citigroup Chief Executive Vikram Pandit’s efforts to restore the bank’s fiscal footing. Analysts do not expect the New York-based bank to be profitable in 2009 or 2010.

Converting preferred shares to common equity “helps their capital ratios but it doesn’t help their problem assets,” said Walter Todd, portfolio manager at Greenwood Capital Associates LLC in Greenwood, South Carolina. “If Citi were out of the woods, the stock would not be at $2.”

The government plans on Wednesday to subject banks with more than $100 billion of assets to “stress tests” to decide which need more capital. Citigroup ended 2008 with $1.95 trillion of assets.

Citigroup shares closed up 9.7 percent at $2.14. They earlier traded as high as $2.48, but gave up some gains as broader indexes fell.

One needs to wonder how many more times it needs to be pointed out until people realize that Citigroup is dead:

Citi’s Endgame

Citigroup Agony Prolonged

Game Over for Citi

Now regulators are discussing a conversion of $45 billion from preferred stock into common stock. How is this supposed to solve any structural problems? All that is behind this move is that Citi doesn’t want to pay the preferred dividend to the taxpayer anymore. Kiss the idea goodbye that taxpayer money invested will be recovered in any way. Citi’s common stock market cap is at around $10 billion now. A $45 billion conversion of preferred into common stock will all but wipe out common shareholders. Citi’s shares will follow Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s leads and turn into penny stocks.

In reality the company’s common stock isn’t even worth $0.00. I have explained this so many times and it can be read up on in the links I posted above. So I won’t get into it again.

How does any of this clean up Citi’s balance sheets?
How does any of this help investors trust that assets are marked to fair market value?
How is any of this supposed to restore trust in the US banking system?
How are we supposed to get credit flowing again if the banks’ balance sheets are full of garbage and people don’t trust banks with their savings?
How have any of these policies helped avert the continuous decline of the US economy?
How does the taxpayer get anything out of this?

To hell with Citi. Let them go bankrupt and be done with ongoing postponements of the inevitable.

The source of the crisis is that in response to the most irresponsible monetary and fiscal policy, US consumers and government borrowed too much, spent too much, and saved too little, setting in motion The Business Cycle via Credit Expansion and creating an environment of capital consumption. Nothing of what the government is currently doing even remotely addresses these issues. To the contrary, it continues and aggravates the irresponsible habits of the past. Big government is getting bigger by the day. Just as it has been for the past decades, with no change in sight under the Obama administration.

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Fix It!

High-Flying Citigroup Grounds Plans for $50M Jet:

The high-flying execs at Citigroup caved under pressure from President Obama and decided today to abandon plans for a luxurious new $50 million corporate jet from France.

The decision came 24 hours after the banking giant, which was rescued by a $45 billion taxpayer lifeline, defended buying the state-of-the-art Dassault Falcon 7X — one of nine to be flying in U.S. skies — as a smart business deal.

The jet, the epitome of corporate prestige and privilege, can carry 12 passengers in elegant comfort.

ABC News has learned that on Monday officials of the Obama administration called Citigroup about the company’s new $50 million corporate jet and told execs to “fix it.”

As disturbing as it is that Citigroup had planned on purchasing this jet up to this day, it is encouraging to see that this administration is keeping close tabs on what seems to be happening with taxpayer money. Citigroup is bankrupt. They ought to sell off what is left, not keep buying more.

What is unfortunately unspoken of are the countless deals that we don’t hear about and will never hear about.

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Game Over for Citi

Citigroup is beginning to fall apart. As already mentioned 2 months ago the company has no other choice but to sell off its units.

Reuters writes

Citigroup Inc faced growing uncertainty on Wednesday about whether it could ever function well, leading investors to drive its shares down below $5.00 to their lowest level since the bank won a government rescue in November.

As I mentioned in my article, once Citi begins to actually offer units on the market, it will be unavoidable to put the cards on the table and expose the house of cards.

Once the world’s largest bank, Citigroup is expected to shrink by about a third as it focuses on corporate, investment and retail banking and trims its trading operations, a person familiar with the plan said. Citigroup will also put businesses and assets it no longer wants into a separate structure, with an eye toward eventual sales, the person said.

I wouldn’t be surprised if in this process the Citi stock continues to tumble toward zero, just as Fannie Mae and Freddit Mac did.

The annual cost of protecting $10 million of Citigroup debt against default for five years rose to $410,000 on Wednesday from $265,000 on Tuesday, according to Phoenix Partners Group.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this cost goes up exponentially during that same process.

And once they are done dealing with their balance sheet, the big question will be: “Hey, who wants these toxic 1.1 trillion off-balance sheet assets?” Expect the Fed and the Treasury to heroically jump in and have the taxpayer foot the bill.

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