Merrill Chief Wants $10-Million Bonus For Presiding Over $11-Billion Loss

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Talk about tone deaf!

Merrill Lynch chief John Thain wants a bonus of as much as $10 million, reports (sub. req.) the Wall Street Journal.

Merrill’s compensation committee is, not surprisingly, said to be objecting, pointing out among other things that, due to the dire economic situation, other firms like Goldman Sachs — which did better than Merrill — are forgoing bonuses this year.

Merrill has lost almost $12 billion this year, and is about to be taken over by Bank of America. Its shares have fallen fom $50 when Thain took over late last year to $13.04 at close of trading Friday.

It looks like Thain — who was a major fundraiser for John McCain’s campaign and was described by USA Today as a member of McCain’s “team” — is a practitioner of the bargaining strategy in which you begin with a maximalist offer as a starting point for negotiation:

A few months ago, when the board began seriously considering 2008 bonuses, a proposal was presented to the compensation committee by Merrill that Mr. Thain should be paid in excess of $30 million, according to people familiar with the matter. That number has since come down in recent talks with various board members and Mr. Thain has recently indicated to committee members that $5 million to $10 million is more reasonable.

The Journal notes some evidence in Thain’s favor:

Mr. Thain’s decision to sell Merrill likely salvaged billions of dollars for shareholders and saved a huge number of jobs at the firm, even though thousands of positions will be eliminated following the takeover.

Mr. Thain’s quick moves won him respect on Wall Street, especially in contrast to top executives at Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and Bear Stearns.

Still, to Americans hit by the mortgage crisis that Merrill and other Wall Street firms helped set the stage for, those points may not carry much weight.

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