Guess who’s going to pay retention bonuses?
posted at 2:14 pm on April 3, 2009 by Ed Morrissey
Want to bet that the next round of Bonus Outrage will get significantly less play? That’s because the latest in retention bonuses come from politically-connected Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The Wall Street Journal puts the numbers at $210 million for the bailout recipient:
In a compensation program that has drawn angry protests from politicians, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac expect to pay about $210 million in retention bonuses to 7,600 employees over 18 months, according to a letter from the mortgage companies’ regulator to Sen. Charles Grassley.
The maximum retention bonus for any individual executive under the plan will total $1.5 million during the 18 months ending in early 2010, according to the letter, which provides previously undisclosed details about the bonuses. The regulator, James Lockhart, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, said in a letter to the Iowa Republican senator that about $51 million of the payouts were made in late 2008 and that the rest are to be made this year and early next year.
In the letter, a copy of which was made available to The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Lockhart defends the bonuses as vital to retaining talent at the two companies, the main providers of funding for U.S. home mortgages. Fannie and Freddie, which reported combined losses of about $108 billion for 2008, are being propped up by capital infusions from the U.S. Treasury.
Hot Air readers knew about this more than two weeks ago. None of these compensation plans were secret. Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, and AIG all disclosed them in their annual reports. If these surprised members of Congress — and all evidence shows that notion as false — then it was only out of willful blindness and abject stupidity. How many people invest $1,000 in a company without at least reading their annual report, let alone hundreds of billions of dollars?
If Congress doesn’t want to pay retention bonuses, then they should stop buying equity in private firms.
In other willful-blindness news, it turns out that Tim Geithner wasn’t really the wunderkind his supporters made him out to be:
Billions of dollars worth of financial instruments known as credit derivatives were being traded daily, as banks and investors worldwide tried to protect against losses on increasingly complex and risky financial bets. But the buying and selling of these exotic instruments was stuck in a pencil-and-paper era. Geithner, then head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, pressed 14 major financial firms to build an electronic network that would cut backlogs and make the market easier to monitor.
Geithner’s summit, held at the New York Fed’s fortress-like headquarters near Wall Street, was a success. By fall 2006, the new system had all but eliminated the logjam, helping derivatives trade more efficiently. One financial industry newsletter honored Geithner as part of a “Dream Team” for his leadership of the effort.
Yet as Geithner and the New York Fed worked to solve narrow mechanical issues in the derivatives market, they missed clear signs of a catastrophe in the making. When the housing market collapsed, derivatives stoked the fires that ignited inside some of the biggest banking companies. The firms’ failure to assess an array of risks they were taking has emerged as a key element in the multitrillion-dollar meltdown of the global financial system.
Although Geithner repeatedly raised concerns about the failure of banks to understand their risks, including those taken through derivatives, he and the Federal Reserve system did not act with enough force to blunt the troubles that ensued. That was largely because he and other regulators relied too much on assurances from senior banking executives that their firms were safe and sound, according to interviews and a review of documents by The Washington Post and the nonprofit journalism organization ProPublica.
A confidential review ordered by Geithner in 2006 found that banking companies could not properly assess their exposure to a severe economic downturn and were relying on the “intuition” of banking executives rather than hard quantitative analysis, according to interviews with Fed officials and a little-noticed audit by the Government Accountability Office. The Fed did not use key enforcement tools until later, after the credit crisis erupted, according to its records and interviews.
But he’s uniquely qualified!