« Waterboarding Under the Bridge? | Main | SOTU Open Thread: Get Yer Speech On »

January 27, 2010

Comments

Heckuva job, Timmy.

Just pause and let that sink in. Their compensation packages exceed the company's revenue.

That's not right. A quick google search shows me that Citigroup had $30 billion in revenue in the second quarter alone (and $20 billion in the third quarter). But I can see how you came to that conclusion from the way the NYTimes article worded that sentence.

Their compensation packages exceed the company's revenue.

No, the NYT is engaging in a little inaccuracy, there. Their compensation package exceeds the company's net income.

Which is, roughly, revenues less expenses.

Yeah, I should have known that. Silly mistake. Will fix. Thanks gents.

I'm still baffled at how they could compensate themselves into the loss column. That's what it appears that NYT is claiming.

Wierd.

But the numbers aren't actually all that outrageous, for Citigroup. Average compensation comes out to something like 130k, for an employee workforce of 275k.

I'd complain to The Management, really.

I think that's my current favorite jam by said collective.

True, Slart, but averages can conceal a lot. I wonder what the distribution of bonuses looks like. I doubt it's anywhere close to flat.

"Average compensation comes out to something like 130k, for an employee workforce of 275k."

Well, the article says 94k. I assume all of that is after currency adjustments that probably add to that number over the last few years (the dollar hasn't been soaring) and it just doesn't end up being that astounding a number for average earnings for a multinational financial institution. It is good work if you can get it but doesn't strike me as an amoral average.


The "salaries are greater than net income" to me is an odd thing to even say, it is pretty normal in services businesses for that to be true. Often by a lot in well managed companies.

True, Slart, but averages can conceal a lot. I wonder what the distribution of bonuses looks like. I doubt it's anywhere close to flat.

I sincerely doubt that it's flat. Assuming bonuses equates to all non-salary income, some of its upper management made over $20mill in bonus in 2008.

I'm not so much trying to excuse any of those companies as I am trying to make sense of the numbers. And they're still confusing. 26 billion divided by 94k gets you over 380k employees, which seems way on the high side.

Just once I'd like to read about something like this in the media and have all the numbers fit together well, so that I don't have to speculate wildly just to make sense of it.

The "salaries are greater than net income" to me is an odd thing to even say, it is pretty normal in services businesses for that to be true. Often by a lot in well managed companies.

Do you have stats/citations to back that up?

It is good work if you can get it but doesn't strike me as an amoral average.

The morality comes in when the pay is provided courtesy of taxpayers. In addition to the fact that the "average" is pretty deceptive - as slarti pointed out.

And is the 24.9b number for citi the bonus pool or total comp? Sounds like the latter, and I'm not sure how u back out total comp and then compare it to what "profit" would be if u didn't have any employees, if that's what is going on

it is pretty normal in services businesses for that to be true

I had to think about that one. Yes, payroll is just another expense.

But if that's what the writer is trying to say, he's saying it very, very badly. Comparing one part of expenses to all of net income, for instance, is just silly.

Sure, you could say they compensated themselves into a loss, but you could also say that they failed to earn enough to make a profit. This way, it looks like they callously collected all of the profit they had and distributed it as bonuses just to piss off the taxpayers/shareholders.

2008 annual statement has compensation and benefits at $32billion. They don't separate out bonus, sadly.

"But the numbers aren't actually all that outrageous, for Citigroup. Average compensation comes out to something like 130k, for an employee workforce of 275k."

As I have mentioned, my wife is a hairdresser. Many of her Russian friends come to the house, where she set up a little studio in the basement, rather than the salon where she works.

Elana, whose husband Boris (a real stick in the mud who has put me to sleep whenever we are at the same Russian shindig together -- it's either him or the vodka, or both) works for Citi and makes six figures, was here Monday before I left for work. Monday night, when I got home from work after a 12-hour day, Olga told me how she was bragging that Boris got a $22,000 year-end bonus.

Doesn't compare too favorably to the $150 Christmas bonus I got.

Guy's a real penny-pincher, too.

The problem with structuring much of the compensation as "bonuses" is that people naturally get the idea that these bonuses resemble in some way the bonuses they're familiar with, the ones that ordinary mortals get. That is, people assume that bonuses have something to do with how much profit the company made or the performance of the employees in question.

But I assume there are offsetting bookkeeping reasons for these companies to continue the PR nightmare of the "bonuses".

KCinDC: As I understand it, something in the tax code makes it more valuable to give the money as a "bonus", rather than regular income.

Also, aren't the bonuses sometimes in stock?

In any case, they're not performance bonuses, as many of them are required in the contracts with the people. All in all, they're nothing like regular bonuses, and I don't know why.

Or, they could just be evil. Given past history, that's not entirely out of consideration,

On wall st. bonuses, my understanding from working with investment banks is that (a) they get a small salary during the year, with the understanding that (b) they will earn a bonus based on their personal performance during the year, the amount (but not the existence) of which can be affected by overall firm results (though maybe not). This is all pursuant to their employment contract.

For example, suppose investment bank A's normal cost of a 5-year borrowing is 7%. However, deal team X executes a $500 million 5-year borrowing at 6% due to certain aspects of the deal. So, instead of $175 million in interest paid over five years, Ibank A pays $150 million, saving $25 million. DTeam X gets, say, 10% of that savings as bonus at the end of the year. They do four of these deals during the year, DTeam X's bonus is $10 million total, or $1 million each if there are 10 members. Whether or not IBank A makes money overall does not factor into their bonus (or does so on the margin), as they did their job lowering the firm's cost of borrowing (which is effectively the same as making a profit in these circumstances).

Fair if IBank A loses $500 million in the current year, or not?

Fair?!? There is no "fair" in economics. Workers get whatever they can squeeze out of their bosses; the bosses pay as little as they can hire workers for. Right?

Curiously, the model Ugh presents is strikingly similar to the system by which waiters get paid: a small (used to be less-than-minimum) wage, plus tips. Tips are bigger in places where the entrees are more expensive, because everybody (owners, managers, waiters, even customers) buys into the percentage paradigm. I don't know why that should be.

--TP

This way, it looks like they callously collected all of the profit they had and distributed it as bonuses just to piss off the taxpayers/shareholders.

The graphic in the article refers to a "profit pool", which is equal to pretax profit before compensation is paid. Apparently both capital earnings (to shareholders) and compensation (to employees) comes out of that, with the proportions decided at the executive level.

So, if I understand all of that correctly, it appears that compensation isn't just treated as an expense, but is part of allocating profits to different stakeholders.

The thing I'm unclear on is if, and how, performance comes into it.

Also, if I were a shareholder, I'd be pretty pissed.

The statements that caught my eye were these:

Until recently, the ratio for most Wall Street banks hovered around 60 cents of every dollar, in line with other labor- and talent-intensive industries like retailing and health care.

60% of profits go to workers in retail and health care? That seems off. Who the heck in retail or health care is getting 60% of profits?

Wall Street giants like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley traditionally set aside about half their revenue for compensation. Big diversified banks, like Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase, typically set aside about a third.

Did they really mean to say *revenue*?!? If so, all I can say is holy cow.

Net/net, these guys seem to suffer from a fundamental misunderstanding -- it ain't their money.

Just once I'd like to read about something like this in the media and have all the numbers fit together well, so that I don't have to speculate wildly just to make sense of it.

You and me both.

What the Times seems to be saying is that profit is calculated twice.

The first time, profit is revenue minus expenses (P1 = R - E), where expenses includes salaries but not bonuses. (Companies I've worked for that calculate bonuses as a fraction of profit do it the way I've described above, but perhaps E at this point excludes salaries too, so the calculation in the next step gives the total of salaries and bonuses, from which salaries (a known figure) is subtracted to give bonuses.)

Now some percentage of that profit is distributed as bonuses, and the rest remains as profit (P2 = P1 - B). If we call the percentage that goes to bonuses BPCT, then

P2 = P1 * (100-BPCT)/100

And, according to the Times, Citigroup's value for BPCT is greater than 100.

The enthusiastic embrace of the Bush bank bailout has to be the biggest mistake the Obama team made, and they managed to make it before they even took office. Congressional Democrats helped sign their own death warrants by passing the thing overwhelmingly when Republicans could almost certainly have provided most of the votes.

What do you sports guys call that, an unforced error?

We'd probably have had the exact same outcome without his fingerprints all over it.

Anyway, this Citibank thing is just another sign that the newly invigorated banking sector, fresh from its rescue, has slipped the grasp of its exhausted rescuers and is halfway back to the cliff edge again. The next time I think we're going to let them fall off, whether it's a good idea or not.

"The enthusiastic embrace of the Bush bank bailout has to be the biggest mistake the Obama team made, and they managed to make it before they even took office."

Ditto that, a thousand times over.

And it's a mistake Prez Obama will try to weave out of tonight, and for the rest of his term.

Argh. I pretty much am willing to believe that these companies are taking advantage of the government guarantee in wildly inappropriate ways, and I'm willing to believe that the bonuses are ridiculous, but it would be nice to have a reporter who knew wtf he was writing about on it. Could they seriously not get somebody with a basic understanding of finance?

Could they seriously not get somebody with a basic understanding of finance.

Why would anyone like that work as a reporter, when even abject failures make at least six figures working in finance?

Maybe the collectors of those bonuses are aware that another disaster is coming and/or that this is likely their last chance to grab obscene amounts of dough without being held accountable for it. Especially those on top can go into luxurious retirement any time, so they don't have to worry about loss of job. Most importantly they have the money to pay for their own security, so they are safe from the torches and pitchforks

Why would anyone like that work as a reporter, when even abject failures make at least six figures working in finance?

You don't have to be a Wall Street financier to be able to spot obvious errors of thinking in this guy's article. There are low-level finance people making 30k a year or less who could have fact-checked this.

Maybe. My wife hasn't been one of those for many years. She undercharges (IMO, of course) at about $50 an hour for consulting. It's absolutely amazing to me that there are people out there who have built corporations worth tens of millions of dollars or more that understand even less about finance that I have learned from osmosis during 17 years (yesterday!) of marriage to a finance weenie.

One of her clients hires her to do spreadsheets, which they then have her print out because they only want to ever look at hardcopy. So: lots of time and energy put into formatting and such, so it all comes out looking nice on printed page.

The enthusiastic embrace of the Bush bank bailout has to be the biggest mistake the Obama team made, and they managed to make it before they even took office.

According to the Obama administration, the bank bailout funds have already been repaid.

It's, supposedly, the auto and other nonbank bailouts that have put the dent in the public coffers.

17 years (yesterday!)

mazel tov, slarti!

Thanks, russell.

We actually forgot; both of us, because we'd celebrated it early this year with a combined anniversary/Sugar Bowl trip to New Orleans. My mother-in-law called to wish us a happy anniversary, and we were both chagrined to discover that we weren't aware that it WAS our anniversary.

Next time, I'd choose to visit when there are fewer drunken college students, but we had a good time with them when we wanted, and we found places where we could escape from the throng and still be having fun.

All in all, though, NO outside of the New Years/Mardi Gras window is preferable, if you can get it. We've never been there in the summer, though, because of the Too Damned Hot thing.

All in all, though, NO outside of the New Years/Mardi Gras window is preferable, if you can get it.

Go to the French Quarter Festival. Or Jazz Fest.

Why would anyone like that work as a reporter, when even abject failures make at least six figures working in finance?

My kind of snark. Slarti's objections notwithstanding.

Could they seriously not get somebody with a basic understanding of finance?

From the NYT:

Mr. Dash graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2002, where he studied business and history at the Wharton School. He also holds a master’s degree in international political economy from the London School of Economics.

Now, I'm not saying a CV alone guarantees understanding or credibility, but I'm going to need a lot more from some people on this thread before they continue to disparage the writer's grasp of finance.

I suppose he could be instead be afflicted with a Slarti-grade (not to be confused with tardigrade) unclarity. Or an editor that left his initial piece in worse shape than he found it.

Tardigrades - holy freaking cow, that is one tough little critter!!

From Slarti's link:

After they were returned to Earth, it was discovered that many of them survived and laid eggs that hatched normally, making these the only animals shown to be able to survive the vacuum of space

!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

I, for one, welcome our new slow-walking water bear masters.

There's no end of goodness on teh innertubes, russell.

Also: no end of badness.

It's been a while since I took biology, so I had to hit about 3/4 of the links in that entry to have any idea of what I was reading. Very cool. Those radiation numbers are impressive.

So if the employees are ripping off the investor class does that make it socialism? A workers revolution? A job action? Something?

More seriously, the whole financial crisis involved a transfer of wealth from investors to employees, mainly to the executive class and the higher paid traders etc. It is a warped sort of class warfare. Made more complex by the fact that many of the "Owners" were employee pension funds.

This also happens with standard Ponzi schemes.

Some of the people who got mortgages under the recent system could be viewed as ripping off Wall Street banks. Especially where "Liar Loans" were securitized into derivatives.

"Now, I'm not saying a CV alone guarantees understanding or credibility, but I'm going to need a lot more from some people on this thread before they continue to disparage the writer's grasp of finance."

Well then i'm going to have to go with Slarti's guess that he is a seriously bad communicator. Because the article makes it sound like the author doesn't have a grasp of basic finance.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Blog powered by Typepad