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Quick Hits: Blue Christmas for Merrill Execs


Brief scrutiny of today's headlines.

John Thain, the man who laid the groundwork for Merrill Lynch's (MER) merger with Bank of America (BAC) shortly before Lehman Brothers collapsed, won't be getting a bonus this year.

Thain said accepting a bonus of $5 million to $10 million wouldn't make sense "given current economic and market conditions." He's too kind.

Never mind that Thain negotiated a much better price for the brokerage house than the bargain basement price JPMorgan Chase (JPM) paid for Bear Stearns, and almost certainly saved stockholders billions in value (though it's a good bet that thousands will be fired following Bank of America's takeover).

Initially, some in Merrill Lynch proposed rewarding Thain with a bonus of about $30 million. Thain suggested a lower figure would better fit current conditions.

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said Thain's proposed bonus was "nothing less than shocking."

"The performance of Merrill's top executives throughout Merrill's abysmal year in no way justifies significant bonuses for its top executives," Cuomo huffed.

Four other Merrill executives also won't receive bonuses this year: President and Chief Operating Officer Greg Fleming, Chief Financial Officer Nelson Chai, President of Global Wealth Management Robert McCann and General Counsel Rosemary Berkery.

Typically, top Wall Street executives and traders receive a 6-figure base salary and a performance-based bonus makes up the bulk of the annual compensation. Thain's base salary is about $750,000.

Thain is a talented manager. He served as president of Goldman Sachs (GS) and was a partner when the company successfully launched an IPO in 1999. He left Goldman Sachs in 2004 to become head of the New York Stock Exchange (NYX).

So, Thain won't starve and there's no need to cry about his lost bonus. But continued political interference in Wall Street's business may give us all reason to cry sooner than we think.
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