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US FIs owe executives over $40 billion

Source: PTI
November 04, 2008 16:28 IST
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Amid the uproar over slashing salaries to top management executives, American financial institutions receiving assistance from the Federal government owe more than $40 billion in pay and pension to its executives up to the end of 2007.

An analysis by The Wall Street Journal showed that financial giants getting cash injections owe over $40 billion for the past year's pay and pension.

The US government recently announced an economic bailout package of $750 billion dollars, which included buying stakes in banks, and once the government becomes a stakeholder, these entities are required to have restrictions on executive pay.

"... Overlooked in these efforts is the total size of debts that financial firms receiving taxpayer assistance previously incurred to their executives, which at some firms exceed what they owe in pensions to their entire work forces," the report pointed out.

The sums are mostly for special executive pension and deferred compensation, including bonuses, for previous years. Because the liabilities include stock, they are subject to market fluctuation. Given the stock-market decline of this year, some may have fallen substantially, it added.

According to the report, the liabilities at Goldman Sachs Group are $11.8 billion, at JPMorgan Chase about $8.5 billion, and at Morgan Stanley $10-12 billion.

The Wall Street Journal said that except Goldman Sachs, few firms report the size of these debts to their executives.

"In most cases, the Journal calculated them by extrapolating from figures that the firms do have to disclose. Most firms haven't set aside cash or stock for these IOUs. They are a drag on current earnings and when the executives depart, employers have to pay them out of the corporate coffers," the report said.

Noting that deferring compensation appeals both to employers, who save cash in the near term, and to executives, who delay taxes and see their deferred-pay accounts grow, sometimes aided by matching contributions, the Journal said that in some cases, firms give top executives high-guaranteed returns on these accounts.

The liabilities are essentially a hidden obligation. Even when the debts to their executives total in billions, most companies lump them with "other liabilities"; only a few then identify amounts attributable to deferred pay, the WSJ added.

"The Journal was able to approximate companies' IOUs, in some cases, by looking at an amount they report as deferred tax assets for 'deferred compensation' or 'employee benefits and compensation'.

"This figure shows how much a company expects to reap in tax benefits when it ultimately pays the executives what it owes them," the report said.

Pointing out that JPMorgan reported $3.4 billion deferred tax assets for employee benefits in 2007, The WSJ said, "Assuming a 40 per cent combined federal and state tax rate -- and backing out obligations for retiree health and other items -- implies the bank owed about $8.2 billion to its own executives."

It also noted that a person familiar with the matter confirmed the estimate. The report said that applying the same technique to Citigroup yields roughly a five billion dollar IOU, primarily for restricted stocks of executives and eligible employees, and a person familiar with the matter confirmed the estimate.

The US Treasury is injecting $25 billion each into JPMorgan and Citi. In return, the government would be getting preferred shares in the two banks and warrants to buy common shares.

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