Audit Notes: NYT and Bain, Dimon’s Comp Committee, 401(k)s

Too much focus on Romney, who left the company years before the alleged collusion

It’s great that The New York Times is going aggressively after court documents in a big private-equity bid-rigging lawsuit, filing a motion to get documents unsealed.

But I wonder how relevant it is to mention its former CEO Mitt Romney so prominently in a story about alleged anticompetitive behavior that occurred at least two years after he left the firm. While Bain’s lawyers apparently injected Romney and politics into their arguments for keeping the documents sealed, and you can’t ignore that or his founding of the company, it seems like overkill for the Times to devote eight paragraphs of the story to Romney, however much he’s responsible for the company’s culture.

Beyond the Romney parts, though, the reporting is interesting. This is pretty damning:

Documents produced by the defendants and filed this week showed e-mails and meetings indicating that other equity firms had agreed to “stand down” and avoid bidding with the understanding that they would be brought into future deals.

E-mails cited in the lawsuit indicate that another private equity firm, TPG, said it had discussed the HCA acquisition with executives for Bain and K.K.R. and had decided not to bid on the company because “our relationship with them, K.K.R. and Bain, was more important.”

American Banker’s Jeff Horwitz notices this amusing snippet from a Wall Street Journal story on how JPMorgan is rethinking its executive compensation (emphasis mine):

At J.P. Morgan, the biggest U.S. bank by assets, directors are considering lower 2012 bonuses for Chief Executive James Dimon and other top executives in the wake of a multibillion-dollar trading disaster, said people close to the discussions. But they also are grappling with the question of how to do that without drastically reducing the executives’ take-home pay, the people said.

Horwitz notes that the bank’s compensation committee consists of a guy who got a $321 million golden parachute, a guy who got a $144 million golden parachute, and another guy who still works, but brought home $24 million.

Jamie Dimon & Co.’s paychecks are in good hands. Nice catch by the Banker.

— The NYT has a good look at the serious shortcomings in the country’s primary private retirement system, the 401(k):

But many investment experts and economists give the 401(k) system low marks. They note that fewer than half of the nation’s private sector workers are in 401(k) plans and that nearly a quarter of businesses with more than 100 employees do not offer 401(k)’s. Moreover, many Americans put only 3 percent of their earnings into 401(k)’s when investment experts often recommend saving 10 or even 12 percent.

The typical worker age 55 to 64 had just $54,000 in a 401(k) in 2010, according to a new report by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, and households with workers in that age group had $120,000 in retirement savings on average, if the money rolled into I.R.A.’s was included.

It’s basically the worst of all worlds if you want people to save for old age: a voluntary plan that lets far too many people slip through; a piggy bank that’s too tempting and too easy for savers to break open; a tax program that costs $80 billion a year and gives most of the benefits to the well off; and an inefficient system that transfers money from future old folks to the finance industry via huge fees:

A study by Demos, a liberal research center, found that a median-income couple that invested in 401(k)’s for 40 years with fees averaging 1.6 percent a year would achieve $354,850 in assets at average savings rates, but only after paying $154,794 in investment fees.

— If you haven’t seen Mike Konczal’s (aka Rortybomb’s) Complete Guide To America’s Jobs Crisis And The Failure Of Monetary Policy Using Animated Gifs, don’t miss it.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,