Displaying items by tag: bonuses

Monday, 08 March 2010 23:00

The Financial Times' Banker on Bonuses

The Financial Times has published an Op-Ed piece I penned on bonuses in the banking industry. Enjoy!

A bank employee recently asked me: "As a trader, my bonus is derived directly from my profit and loss, which is accrued over the quarter and kept in a separate account. It does not go into the firm's bottom line and then back out to me. Also, like most traders, I accrue 2% of my gains in a loss provision account in case I have a major write-down in the year. My bonus is 10% of my profit for the year. If I make $50m for the year my bonus is $5m. What does my bonus have to do with the mortgage-backed securities [MBS] trader who is sitting on losses? Did I or did I not show a profit of $40m to the firm's bottom line?"

 Main Street is absolutely flabbergasted that bankers do not understand the core issues of this bonus question. Allow me to clearly outline the problem and propose a solution. Assuming this trader works for a prominent US bank that received a bailout, he is not entitled to a $5m bonus if he made $50m for the year. Why not? Because he generated that 10% return from taxpayer capital, not firm capital. For example, Goldman Sachs would have had the drawdown from purgatory had it not been rescued from a $30bn credit default swap deal with AIG.

Let's assume AIG would have negotiated a 40% payout to Goldman Sachs, which is realistic given that litigation with an insolvent company that had many more contingent and direct claims would probably have resulted in a lower net receipt to Goldman. This alone would have resulted in a hole of about $7.8bn for the bank.

Monday, 08 March 2010 23:00

The Financial Times' Banker on Bonuses

The Financial Times has published an Op-Ed piece I penned on bonuses in the banking industry. Enjoy!

A bank employee recently asked me: "As a trader, my bonus is derived directly from my profit and loss, which is accrued over the quarter and kept in a separate account. It does not go into the firm's bottom line and then back out to me. Also, like most traders, I accrue 2% of my gains in a loss provision account in case I have a major write-down in the year. My bonus is 10% of my profit for the year. If I make $50m for the year my bonus is $5m. What does my bonus have to do with the mortgage-backed securities [MBS] trader who is sitting on losses? Did I or did I not show a profit of $40m to the firm's bottom line?"

 Main Street is absolutely flabbergasted that bankers do not understand the core issues of this bonus question. Allow me to clearly outline the problem and propose a solution. Assuming this trader works for a prominent US bank that received a bailout, he is not entitled to a $5m bonus if he made $50m for the year. Why not? Because he generated that 10% return from taxpayer capital, not firm capital. For example, Goldman Sachs would have had the drawdown from purgatory had it not been rescued from a $30bn credit default swap deal with AIG.

Let's assume AIG would have negotiated a 40% payout to Goldman Sachs, which is realistic given that litigation with an insolvent company that had many more contingent and direct claims would probably have resulted in a lower net receipt to Goldman. This alone would have resulted in a hole of about $7.8bn for the bank.

I believe I was one of the first of this new wave of blogger/investors to short  Goldman publicly in early 2008 (see Goldman Sachs Snapshot: Risk vs. Reward vs. Reputations on the Street and Reggie Middleton on Risk, Reward and Reputations on the Street: the Goldman Sachs Forensic Analysis). The impetus behind the short thesis was simple. Goldman is an investment bank, just like its bulge bracket brethren, and the risk in its environment threatened all of them the same. Contrary to popular belief, Goldmanites bleed red blood and spend green dollars, just like the rest of us.