Merrill in the Public Stocks

I like the prominent display The New York Times and the Financial Times give the news that Merrill Lynch made 700 of its employees bonuses of more than $1 million each. The Journal stuffs it on C3.

The NYT points out that the $4 billion Merrill bonus pool was weighted toward the top, of course.

The payments, made just before Merrill Lynch was sold to Bank of America in December, have already stirred anger for being paid earlier than usual. And Mr. Cuomo made it clear that the bulk of the bonuses were paid to a small portion of Merrill Lynch’s 39,000 employees.

Fifty-three Merrill bankers got bonuses of more than $5 million each. The top four got $121 million total. The FT goes further:

The next 10 bonus recipients took home $128m in incentive pay, while the top 149 recipients got $858m in aggregate payments.

And this is an, ahem, off year!

The New York Daily News, which broke the story, has a stunning detail, one that’s not prominently featured in the major biz press stories:

One beneficiary was Peter Kraus, a Thain hire who started at Merrill in mid-September and quit Dec. 18, the day Bank of America took over.

He walked away with a $29.4 million bonus for those three months of work, which figures to about $294,000 a day. The day he quit, his wife closed on a $36 million luxury Park Ave. co-op, records show.

Nice work if you can get it.

Check this out:

Bank of America had also granted generous payments to Merrill’s top producing brokers.

James Wiggins, a Morgan Stanley spokesman, said that such payments were necessary and would come out of operating revenue, not government bailout funds. Morgan Stanley has received $10 billion, while Citigroup has received $50 billion.

Uh, James, dude: last we checked, money was fungible. What do you take us for? Congress?

All this is going on while the poor bankers at Bank of America—which supposedly was responsible during the crisis, unlike Mother Merrill—did their duty. Here’s Bloomberg on that:

Bank of America said its top eight senior executives took no “incentive compensation” in 2008. At the next level, the annual incentive pool was reduced by 80 percent, it said.

I guess Merrill figured they had one last run at the trough and they might as well slop it up while they could.

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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.