FORTUNE -- Well, this ought to make Henry Paulson very sad.
The nation's five biggest banks are on track to pay out $127 billion in total compensation, including at least $23 billion in bonuses, this year. That's up from the $114 billion the banks shelled out to their employees in 2009. It translates to $149,472 per full-time employee for 2013, and is roughly triple the pay of the average American. The figures come from financial filings and the calculations of a top Wall Street compensation consultant.
In an article in Tuesday's New York Times, Paulson said he was disappointed by the size of the bonuses banks paid in the wake of the financial crisis and subsequent bailout. The former Treasury Secretary says he was dismayed about the timing of the large 2009 bonuses. He believes the payouts turned the public against the government's Wall Street bailout, but I don't think it was ever that popular, bonuses or not.
Paulson has, at other times, more generally criticized Wall Street pay. In his book, On the Brink, Paulson said he would regularly "go off" in partner meetings at Goldman Sachs (GS), where he was the CEO before heading to the Treasury Department in 2006, about compensation. He told CNBC in 2010 that he used to tell fellow Goldmanites, "I hope you all understand ... people don't like you," when conversations about bonuses would come up. But Paulson took home nearly $102 million in his last three and a half years at Goldman, including an $18.7 million cash bonus for the first half of 2006 alone, so, you know, way to really set an example, Hank.
The Times says banks paid $140 billion in bonuses in 2009. But the paper almost certainly means total compensation, including salary and benefits (the $114 billion previously cited is for the top five banks only). It also says that bonuses peaked in 2009, which, too, appears to be wrong. According to this table from the New York comptroller's office, Wall Street bonuses totaled $22.5 billion in 2009. That was down, again according to the N.Y. comptroller, from 2006, when banks paid $34 billion. Last year, Wall Street firms paid out $20 billion in year-end payouts.
Alan Johnson, a top Wall Street compensation consultant, estimates that bonuses at Wall Street firms could be up as much as 15% this year, based on an increase in mergers and stock and bond underwriting. By Johnson's estimates year-end payouts could reach $23 billion, which would be the highest since the financial crisis, but is still 34% below Wall Street's 2006 pay peak.
All that makes Paulson's burning regret about the level of Wall Street compensation in 2009 kind of bizarre. Business was up in 2009, albeit with the help of bailouts and a disastrous 2008, and bonuses were blah. And bonuses were really down in 2008, to $17.6 billion, which is really the year of the bailout, and when anger over Wall Street pay boiled over, sparked by the revelation that even busted insurer AIG (AIG) was paying hefty bonuses.
Some have argued that instead of being focused on the level of Wall Street pay, what we should really be focused on is whether banker compensation reflects performance, and that it's not a game rigged to produce huge payouts even when banks, shareholders, and ultimately taxpayers, lose. That's what really caused the outrage in 2008. Wall Streeters got billions in bonuses even as their firms were headed for the dumps.
But now the banks are making hefty profits again. According to Dealogic, Wall Street fees from underwriting are up 24% this year from the same period in 2009. Yet, bonuses are only expected to be up 2% from 2009. It's outrageous! Except, no, not really. It's still a heck of a lot of money.
And while bonuses are up, slightly, other things have changed. Johnson says restricted stock, as opposed to immediate cash payouts, now makes up as much as 80% of the year-end pay of top Wall Street executives, about double what it was five years ago. I would think that's enough of a change to help Paulson sleep at night. Or at least get his mind off Wall Street pay and onto the fact that the economic recovery that has followed the financial crisis has been pretty miserable, lending has just recently returned to normal, and that few bankers were ever punished for all the damage they did to the economy. But, hey, we've all got to pick our own regrets in life.
Startups should keep employee upside in equity.
By Eric Paley
FORTUNE -- Venture-backed startups are incredibly ambitious. A startup team comes together to try to create something highly improbable and well beyond what can reasonably be expected given the scarce resources at hand. Once financed, everyone at the startup should have a reasonable salary, but the real compensation for achieving the improbable is equity.
Inevitably, I get into a discussion with my MOREMay 6, 2013 2:53 PM ET
Proposed limits on banker bonuses would cause the slow death of what continues to be - despite overregulation and higher taxes - a very profitable industry for Europe.
By Cyrus Sanati
FORTUNE -- The European Union and Switzerland would be wise to rethink recently proposed policies restricting bonus payouts. The new rules, which cap bonuses for banking employees in the EU and for all employees of publicly-traded companies in Switzerland, could MOREMar 5, 2013 11:31 AM ET
New York City bean counters would like you to believe that Wall Street bonuses have plummeted since 2006. In fact, the reality is much different, at least for those who are left in the industry.
By Cyrus Sanati
FORTUNE -- Wall Street compensation may look shoddy compared to the boom years, but it's really not as bad as the numbers suggest. Estimates released Tuesday by New York State show bonus payouts MOREFeb 28, 2013 8:34 AM ET
With one year left, Goldman Sachs looks like it will come up woefully short of producing a big payout for its CEO and other executives.
FORTUNE -- Lloyd Blankfein may soon have to walk away from a $10 million payday.
Two years ago, Goldman Sachs set up a special bonus plan for its CEO and four other top executives that would produce an eight figure payout should the firm hit specific profit MOREStephen Gandel, senior editor - Feb 12, 2013 1:57 PM ET
Wall Street's bad bonus year did not extend to Citigroup's c-suite.
FORTUNE -- Vikram Pandit is officially no longer Citi's $1 man. Whether he should be a $15 million one is the question.
Yesterday, the bank disclosed that it paid its CEO nearly $14.9 million in cash and options in 2011. That was up from a dollar the year before. Back in 2009, Pandit said he would take a salary of $1 until MOREStephen Gandel, senior editor - Mar 9, 2012 4:58 PM ET
Here's a tear-jerker: Goldman Sachs' better-than-expected first quarter won't mean a bigger bonus pool.
Goldman's (GS) per capita compensation expense fell 11% from a year ago in the quarter ended March 31, even as the firm's revenue and profits handily beat analysts' expectations. Scrimping on pay isn't exactly what Wall Street is known for, as the raises being handed out at J.P. Morganattest. So what gives?
The answer is that Goldman's revenue, MOREColin Barr - Apr 19, 2011 9:23 AM ET
Who says there's no wage growth in the United States?
Bankers at J.P. Morgan, the investment banking unit of JPMorgan Chase (JPM), are in line for a 34% raise this year, if the bank keeps paying at its torrid first-quarter clip.
The investment bank set aside $3.3 billion for compensating its 26,494 workers in the first quarter. That's equivalent to $124,330 for the quarter and projects to $497,320 for the year.
That compares MOREColin Barr - Apr 13, 2011 8:36 AM ET
Give Transocean this: It never runs out of ways to make itself look shabby.
The Swiss-based oil driller tried to clean up a major public relations mess, announcing Tuesday that its five top execs will give back a fraction of the bonuses they undeservingly received for last year. Transocean (RIG) put the fool in April Fool's Day last week by awarding the five $898,282 in bonuses in recognition of the "best year in safety MOREColin Barr - Apr 6, 2011 5:49 AM ET
The oil driller committed the corporate public relations blunder of the year, then followed up with an empty apology. What will it do for an encore?
Making full use of its April 1 filing date, Transocean's (RIG) proxy statement deemed 2010 the "best year in safety performance in our company's history," by certain statistical measures. In a small oversight, those stats ignored the 11 deaths caused last April when the company's MOREColin Barr - Apr 4, 2011 1:48 PM ET
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