Downbound Thain

January 26, 2009 1:32 pm

The John Thain rehabilitation campaign continues.

He hasn’t been on The View yet, but the chair-throwing ex-Merrill CEO did the next best thing this afternoon, talking to Maria Bartiromo of CNBC about his departure last week from Bank of America, why he’s not to blame for Merrill’s multiple billion dollar losses, and the whether it was a good idea to spend $1.2 million of Merill’s money redecorating his office suite. (Short answer: No, but it was a “different economic environment.”)

Thain said he was “surprised” by his ouster at the hands of B of A CEO Ken Lewis, saying that results from the first 20 days of the merger, which went into effect January 1, were “very good.”

He blamed Merrill’s losses on positions the company held before he took over in 2007, and the larger market meltdown. “Over the course of the year I was at Merrill, I was constantly sheding assets,” he said, referring to toxic mortgage assets. “We were in a position of owning very illiquid things that could not be sold and had to be marked down.”

And he denied that Merrill’s continued buying of mortgage assets into the fall were at the heart of the massive fourth quarter losses. “Did we continue to trade? Yes. Did we put on big risk positions …? No… The vast majority of loses in the fourth quarter were from positions that had been there since I started.”

As for the claim that Thain wasn’t open with B of A about Merrill’s losses, Thain said:
“They were seeing exactly the same info that we saw. We gave them complete access to everything we had.”

Those billion dollar bonuses Thain signed off on? “If you dont pay your best people, you will destroy your franchise. Those best people can get jobs other places, they will leave.”

And about that redecoration, Thain said it was a “very different economic environment.” He added: “It is clear to me in today’s world that it was a mistake. I apologize for spending that money on those things.”

Asked by Bartiromo why he couldn’t have left the office as it was when his predecessor as CEO, Stanley O’Neal, took off, Thain replied:

“His office was very different than the general decor of Merrill’s offices. It would have been very difficult for me to use it in the form that it was in.

Watch the video of that exchange:

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