The day before leaving town to vacation in an opulent $9 million, 5-bedroom home in Hawaii, the Obama administration pledged unlimited financial support for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The mortgage giants are already beneficiaries of $200 billion in taxpayer aid. On Christmas Eve, regulatory filings reported that the CEOs of the two firms are in line for $6 million in compensation. Merry Christmas!
Executive compensation is the subject of many academic studies, but one focused on Fannie Mae from two Harvard Law School professors is especially well-named: “Perverse Incentives, Nonperformance Pay and Camouflage”. Executives are able to take unlimited risks and reap unlimited upside rewards knowing that US taxpayers will foot the bill on the downside. The mortgage-backed securities issued by the two firms remain at the center of the causes-and-effects of the financial meltdown.
The compensation for Fannie Mae’s senior managers is recommended by the Compensation Committee “in consultation and with the approval of the Conservator”, which is the U.S. Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). The FHFA was created in July 2008 when Bush signed the Housing and Economic Recovery Act. At the time, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the $200 billion Act would save 400,000 homeowners – in the first six months, exactly one homeowner was able to refinance under the program. The Act also was supposed to clean up the subprime mortgage crisis – which it did not do as evidenced by the collapse of the global financial markets a few months later.
Back to the current problem of paying $6 million to run a bankrupt company whose every financial obligation is guaranteed by taxpayer money. Who is on the compensation committee that recommended this pay day? Dennis Beresford from Ernst & Young (E&Y); Brenda Gaines, recently from Citigroup; Jonathan Plutzik, from Credit Suisse First Boston; and David Sidwell, from Morgan Stanley.
Back in 2004, Ernst & Young was engaged as a consultant to Fannie Mae – right after the Securities and Exchange Commission banned E&Y from taking on new clients. Citigroup took $25 billion in TARP bailout money and Morgan Stanley took $10 billion. Credit Suisse benefited by a mere $400 million as their share of the AIG Financial Products group bailout. Needless to say, this Compensation Committee knows a thing or two about controversies and federal aid!
Enjoy your luxury Christmas vacation, Mr. President, while 45 out of 50 U.S. states are enjoying statistically significant decreases in employment in the face of rising prices. Please take some time to contemplate the words GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt used in describing the leadership traits that need to change in America: “The richest people made the worst mistakes with the least accountability.”
And to the rest of you out there reading this, take some time to contemplate the words of Bill Moyers as he concluded a rather shocking essay of the role of lobbyists in the recent “healthcare reform” legislation: “Outrageous? You bet. But don't just get mad. Get busy.”