JPMorgan Chase & Co. on Friday announced a record $9.3 billion payday for its investment-banking employees, setting the stage for competitors like Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to also make eye-popping payouts.
On a per employee basis, JPMorgan investment bankers, sales staff and traders, on average, are set to make about $379,000 for 2009, up more than $100,000 from 2008, when the broader financial sector was mired in crisis.
"People looking at it from the outside look at the dollars and say they are high," said Kenneth Raskin, the head of law firm White & Case's executive compensation practice.
"There is no question the dollars are high. The question is whether they were deserving."
Median U.S. household income in 2008 was $50,303.
Michael Cavanagh, JPMorgan's chief financial officer, told reporters that even though pay is up overall, its investment bank still reduced the percentage of revenue that it set aside for pay, to 33 percent, from 62 percent for 2008 and historical averages of about 44 percent. Its investment bank had one of its strongest years.
Analysts also expect Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley, which report their results next week, to show an upswing in pay. Citigroup Inc., however, could pay commercial and investment banking bonuses for 2009 that are similar to 2008 levels, sources told Reuters.
Banks across the industry have changed their compensation plans to give managers more of their pay in the form of stock that must be held for multiple years. This sort of deferred compensation is meant to curb traders and others from taking short-term risks that could harm the investment bank several years later.
Changes in compensation plans, however, have done little to bring down overall pay figures and quell public outrage over pay.
The Wall Street Journal on Friday reported that the top 38 U.S. banks and securities firms are on pace to pay their people $145 billion, based the newspaper's analysis.
The public anger over banker pay led the New York Times to call on Congress to pass a one-off windfall tax on banker bonuses. Britain plans a one-time tax of half of banker bonuses above 25,000 pounds ($40,675).
Banks, which now face President Obama's bailout tax, have so far been successful in beating back other reforms, including plans for a consumer protection regulator.
The resistance of the banking industry to roll back pay is infuriating and short-sighted to some, especially with high unemployment and people losing homes to foreclosure.
"These people need some perspective on where we are and what they have done," said Cornelius Hurley, director of the Morin Center for Banking and Financial Law at Boston University.
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