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Pay Czar Makes the Cuts

October 22, 2009

Kenneth Feinberg had the fun task of slashing away at some of the outsize pay packages at financial firms that received hefty doses of government largesse in the past year, but don’t expect Wall Street to cut bonuses on its own later this year.

In fact, Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs are planning to hand out record bonuses as a reward to traders who profited mightily after competitors like Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns went bust last year. The pay cuts under Feinberg’s control apply only to those firms that have not yet paid off their bailout money, primarily AIG, Bank of America, Citigroup, General Motors, GMAC, Chrysler Group and Chrysler Financial.

And some of those with rich payout packages will likely also escape unscathed, including the head of Citigroup’s Phibro oil and gas-trading unit, which the bank sold to Occidental Petroleum in order to avoid having to slash the CEO’s $100 million bonus and violate the terms of his contract. While he won’t be able to receive the bonus this year, he will likely get it next year after the sale closes.

Despite the fact that Feinberg’s determinations on executive pay will only be good for this month and next, he hopes it will set a precedent for future pay practices on Wall Street. Don’t count on that. Chances are that financial firms will do their best to forget his recommendations as soon as they can.

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