Legacy Merrill Lynch employees better hope BofA doesn’t declare bankrutcy before late June

A correspondent notes CJR found a good scoop by the FT:

Merrill Lynch paid out about $4 billion in bonuses just days before Bank of America took it over, the Financial Times says this morning.

What raises the eyebrows is the timing: Merrill paid its bonuses before the year was even up, “an unusual step” because bonuses in past years weren’t paid until late January or early February.

But, of course, by then, the bonuses would have been under the auspices of Bank of America, since that deal closed 1 January 2009.*

My favorite pull quote combines issues of corporate governance, moral hazard, and risk (mis)management:

The timing is notable because the money was paid as Merrill’s losses were mounting and Ken Lewis, BofA’s chief executive, was seeking additional funds from the government’s troubled asset recovery programme to help close the deal.

Merrill and BofA shareholders voted to approve the takeover on December 5. Three days later, Merrill’s compensation committee approved the bonuses, which were paid on December 29.

I’ve never been a believer in Ken Lewis’s alleged skills as a banker—his wins have been ones of sewlf-admitted collusion, while his “free market” purchases have generally been abject failures, the cost savings more than lost in knowledge failures—and this specific instance looks as if he got played badly.

If BofA paid or is paying retention bonuses as well, Lewis should be terminated with extreme prejudice and the entire BofA board should be removed by the shareholders.** It’s not as if (it is filled with crack financial wizards.):

[T]he Bank of America board, whose ranks include the mayor of Spartanburg, S.C.; a retired general, Tommy R. Franks; and the former chairman and chief executive of Lowe’s….

*BofA, memory serving, pays its bonuses in early February—but one somehow suspects that the question would not have been about the timing of the payments.

**I was going to say “with pitchforks, if necessary,” but that might be taken as extremism, since we’re not talking about civilians.

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