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If the home-mortgage mess has a ground zero, it's Countrywide Financial. Under the leadership of Angelo Mozilo, Countrywide helped fuel the housing bubble by writing thousands of questionable subprime mortgages -- the kind used to create the toxic mortgage-backed securities that taxpayers are now being asked to clean up. A spike in bad loans hammered Countrywide in 2007, and in January it agreed to be purchased by Bank of America. Mozilo's total take-home pay for 2005-07 was $361.7 million, most of it from gains on options, according to Equilar.


Fannie Mae fueled the housing bubble by guaranteeing more and more risky loans and purchasing too much subprime debt. Things got so bad that the government stepped in and took control of Fannie in September. Shareholders got wiped out, and CEO Daniel Mudd was denied a golden parachute worth $9.8 million, by one estimate. But he still took home $11.6 million during the boom years of 2005-07, according to Equilar, including $8.3 million in bonus pay. Experts trace the history of many of Fannie's problems to predecessor Franklin Raines, who left in an accounting scandal and later agreed to pay $24.7 million to settle civil charges. But Mudd was at the wheel when the ship went down.


Like Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac fed the frenzy by backing too many risky loans. It was also taken over by the government after conditions worsened this summer. Freddie Mac shareholders got wiped out, and the fiasco contributed to fears that bad mortgage debt would take down the economy. But former Freddie Mac CEO Richard Syron did just fine. He took home $12.9 million from 2005-07, according to Equilar, including $8 million in bonuses. But regulators did snag his golden parachute, worth an estimated $9.8 million.


Bear Stearns was the first Wall Street giant to hit the skids. It was about to collapse last March when the Fed guaranteed up to $29 billion in bad mortgage-related assets. JPMorgan Chase could then stomach a takeover. CEO James Cayne, who left in January, lost millions on Bear stock during the plunge. But he had also cashed out millions in stock before the fall. He took home $42.3 million in his final three years on the job, 2005-07, Equilar says, including $29.8 million in bonus pay for accomplishments that included leading Bear Stearns into the arena of mortgage-backed securities.


Lehman Bros. filed for bankruptcy protection in early September after it was unable to secure the kind of government backing for a corporate buyout mustered by Bear Stearns. The chief obstacle was concern about a $30 billion portfolio of shaky commercial-real-estate assets compiled under the watch of CEO Richard Fuld. Lehman filed for bankruptcy, investors were wiped out, and employees lost their jobs. But Fuld walked away with $186.5 million in earnings from the prior three years, Equilar says. Fuld, who defended his compensation while testifying before a congressional panel on Oct. 6, got most of that by cashing out options. But he also took home $36.8 million in bonus and incentive pay.


Under the leadership of CEO Martin Sullivan, giant insurer American International Group got itself in deep trouble through the use of exotic financial products known as credit default swaps. As the housing sector unraveled this year, AIG reported a string of surprise losses. By September, the insurer needed an $85 billion bailout from the Federal Reserve to avoid bankruptcy. AIG shareholders were virtually wiped out in the deal. But Sullivan, who got the boot in June, came out of it a multimillionaire. He raked in $25.4 million in take-home pay over three years, according to Equilar.


Under Stan O'Neal, Merrill Lynch was one of the most industrious of the Wall Street toxic-debt machines, churning out the types of securities that the government now says it must buy to save the economy. Merrill Lynch took more than $10 billion in write-downs on bad debt in the second quarter. Fears about much more to come forced Merrill to accept a buyout from Bank of America to avoid disaster. O'Neal left Merrill a year ago with $66 million in earnings under his belt for 2005-07. That included $32.6 million in bonuses, Equilar says.


Under the leadership of Kerry Killinger, Washington Mutual plunged headfirst into the kinds of adjustable-rate mortgages and home-equity loans that were destined to go bad when homeowners could not refinance. The largest U.S. savings and loan faced losses from residential mortgages of as much as $19 billion through 2011 when regulators seized it on Sept. 25. But Killinger, who got bounced in September, should have plenty of cash. He took home $36 million in 2005-07, according to Equilar. That included $11 million in bonus pay for his performance.


Bad loans piled up too high at Wachovia; in the second quarter of 2008 alone, the bank reported an $8.9 billion loss. The chief culprit: "pick-a-pay" loans that came in the door when Wachovia bought California thrift Golden West Financial in 2006. Golden West specialized in those risky mortgages. Finally, on Sept. 29., months of speculation ended with news Citigroup will acquire Wachovia in a deal arranged by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. CEO G. Kennedy Thompson, who left in June, did well during his tenure. He took home $16 million during 2005-07, including $10 million in bonus pay, Equilar says.


Citigroup was another of the toxic-debt machines during the housing boom. Now its shareholders are paying the price. Citigroup has taken more than $57 billion in write-downs and losses since the crunch hit, and analysts expect much more. Citigroup has been forced to cut its dividend and raise more than $30 billion. The man at the helm while the mess developed was CEO Charles Prince, who has since left the company. He earned $35.6 million in bonus pay during the boom years of 2005-07 and took home a total of $41.5 million.
 
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