Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Obama Shifts Tone Toward Wall Street? Not Really

In an interview with Bloomberg, Obama said of CEO bonuses:
Asked about the $17 million bonus given to Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co., and the $9 million bonuses going to Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of the Goldman Sachs Group Inc. CEO, the president said, “I know both those guys; they are very savvy businessmen. I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free-market system.”

“I do think that the compensation packages that we’ve seen over the last decade at least have not matched up always to performance,” the president said — a rather serene response relative to some of his previous language on the matter.

The seeming shift in tone comes at a time that Wall Street executives have been relaying to the White House [he] needs to be more encouraging of their efforts if he expects them to be part of the solution in terms of job growth. Several business executives have told the administration that attacking businesses so vociferously doesn’t exactly help create a positive business climate.
He went on to say,
Blankfein and Dimon took their bonuses in stock rather than cash, which Obama encouraged other corporations to do. Such compensation, he said in the interview, “requires proven performance over a certain period of time as opposed to quarterly earnings.” He said that’s a “fairer way of measuring CEO success and ultimately will make the performance of American businesses better.”
As usual, he tells half-truths, here when he says,
"[C]ompensation packages over the last decade haven’t always been commensurate with performance, and reiterated his call for shareholders to have a say in CEO pay.
Stockholders have always had that say, legally and in fact. Small potatoes, though.

The more important point is, is Bloomberg right? Is this a shift in tone (or substance) towards compensation for Wall Street executives? Not really. If he had said, "You know, it's really none of the Federal government's business how much or how little money these guys make — or in what form — provided there's no fraud involved," then that would be a shift in both tone and substance.

Like you, I'm not holding my breath.

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