Today, President Obama announced that top executives’ pay at companies accepting TARP funds would be capped at $500,000, with any additional compensation coming only in the form of stock options that could not be cashed until the government had been repaid.
As news of the plan leaked last night, wealthy Wall Street went into panic mode, insisting that the caps would ruin the financial industry. It’s “a nightmare for any financial institution,” CNBC host Joe Kernen proclaimed this morning, while Fox Business host Alexis Glick said it was evidence of Obama being “a little anti-business.” Others insisted that the “draconian” caps would drive the “best and the brightest” away from Wall Street and that Obama’s anger over executive bonuses was misplaced:
“That is pretty draconian — $500,000 is not a lot of money, particularly if there is no bonus.” [James F. Reda, founder and managing director of James F. Reda & Associates]
“If I didn’t pay [bonuses], the people were going to go. … These people didn’t choose to cure cancer. These people didn’t choose to do public service work…These people chose to make money.” [Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric]
“The consequences of it are going to be a massive brain drain of senior talent from those companies that have taken TARP money to those companies that have not.” [Donald Straszheim, managing principal at Straszheim Global Advisor]
“Companies that need the most talented people to fix their problems won’t be able to pay them.” [
Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive OfficerScott Minerd, CEO and CIO of Guggenheim Partners Asset Management]
Announcing the plan today, Obama emphasized that the key to bolstering the financial system was restoring trust. “And in order to restore trust, we’ve got to make certain that taxpayer funds are not subsidizing excessive compensation packages on Wall Street,” he said. Making it clear that he doesn’t “disparage wealth,” Obama emphasized that outlandish executive pay was both in bad taste and bad strategy:
For top executives to award themselves these kinds of compensation packages in the midst of this economic crisis is not only in bad taste — it’s a bad strategy — and I will not tolerate it as President. We’re going to be demanding some restraint in exchange for federal aid — so that when firms seek new federal dollars, we won’t find them up to the same old tricks.
Under Obama’s new guidelines, Wall Street salaries will be tied at least nominally to performance, so that, as Obama said, “executives are compensated for sound risk management and rewarded for growth measured over years, not just days or weeks.” By contrast, in 2008, when “the brokerage units of New York financial companies lost more than $35 billion,” their executives were rewarded with nearly $20 billion in bonuses.