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Executive Pay: We Knew They Got Raises. But This?

It turns out that the good times are even better than we thought for American chief executives.

Among the executives who registered huge gains in the value of their company stock and options in 2010 were Warren E. Buffett, the chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, top, Lawrence J. Ellison of Oracle, center, and Jeffrey P. Bezos of Together, the three men’s holdings climbed by more than $13 billion for the year.

A preliminary examination of executive pay in 2010, based on data available as of April 1, found that the paychecks for top American executives were growing again, after shrinking during the 2008-9 recession.

But that study, conducted for The New York Times by Equilar, an executive compensation data firm based in Redwood City, Calif., was just an early snapshot, and there were even more riches to come. Some big companies had not yet disclosed their executive compensation.

So Sunday Business asked Equilar to run the numbers again.

Brace yourself.

The final figures show that the median pay for top executives at 200 big companies last year was $10.8 million. That works out to a 23 percent gain from 2009. The earlier study had put the median pay at a none-too-shabby $9.6 million, up 12 percent.

Total C.E.O. pay hasn’t quite returned to its heady, prerecession levels — but it certainly seems headed there. Despite the soft economy, weak home prices and persistently high unemployment, some top executives are already making more than they were before the economy soured.

Pay skyrocketed last year because many companies brought back cash bonuses, says Aaron Boyd, head of research at Equilar. Cash bonuses, as opposed to those awarded in stock options, jumped by an astounding 38 percent, the final numbers show.

Granted, many American corporations did well last year. Profits were up substantially. As a result, many companies are sharing the wealth, at least with their executives. “We’re seeing a lot of that reflected in the pay,” Mr. Boyd says.

And at a time of so much tumult in the media business, it might be surprising that some executives in media and communications were among the most richly rewarded last year.

The preliminary and final studies put Philippe P. Dauman, the chief executive of Viacom, at the top of the list. Mr. Dauman made $84.5 million last year, after signing a new long-term contract that included one-time stock awards.

Leslie Moonves, of the CBS Corporation, got a 32 percent raise and reaped $56.9 million. Michael White of DirecTV was paid $32.9 million, while Brian L. Roberts of the Comcast Corporation and Robert A. Iger of the Walt Disney Company each received pay packages valued at $28 million.

“Media firms seemed to be paying a lot,” said Carol Bowie, head of compensation policy development at ISS Governance, which advises large investors on corporate governance issues like proxy votes. “Media companies in general tend to be high-payers, and they tend to feed off each other.”

Other big payers included oil and commodities companies like Exxon Mobil and a few technology giants like Oracle and I.B.M.

Some of the other highly paid executives on the new list who were not in the April survey are Gregg W. Steinhafel of Target, who had a $23.5 million pay package; Michael E. Szymanczyk of Altria, $20.77 million; and Richard C. Adkerson of Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, $35.3 million.

Most ordinary Americans aren’t getting raises anywhere close to those of these chief executives. Many aren’t getting raises at all — or even regular paychecks. Unemployment is still stuck at more than 9 percent.

In some ways, chief executives seem to live in a world apart when it comes to pay. As long as shareholders think that the top brass is doing a good job, executives tend to be well paid, whatever the state of the broader economy. And some corporate boards were probably particularly generous in 2010 after a few relatively lean years for their top executives. In other words, some of this was makeup pay.

“What is of more concern to shareholders is that it looks like C.E.O. pay is recovering faster than company fortunes,” says Paul Hodgson, chief communications officer for GovernanceMetrics International, a ratings and research firm.

According to a report released by GovernanceMetrics in June, the good times for chief executives just keep getting better. Many executives received stock options that were granted in 2008 and 2009, when the stock market was sinking.

Now that the market has recovered from its lows of the financial crisis, many executives are sitting on windfall profits, at least on paper. In addition, cash bonuses for the highest-paid C.E.O.’s are at three times prerecession levels, the report said.

Of course, these sorts of pay figures invariably push the buttons of many ordinary Americans. Yes, workers’ 401(k)’s are looking better than they did in some recent years, but many investors still have not recovered from the hit they took during the financial crisis. And, of course, millions are out of work or trying to hold on to their homes — or both.

And it’s not as if most workers are getting fat raises. The average American worker was taking home $752 a week in late 2010, up a mere 0.5 percent from a year earlier. After inflation, workers were actually making less.

On the flip side, some chief executives have consistently taken token salaries — sometimes, $1 — choosing instead to rely on their ownership stakes for wealth. These stock riches don’t show up on the current pay lists, but they can be huge.

Warren E. Buffett, for instance, saw his stock holdings rise last year by 16 percent, to $46 billion. Other longtime chief executives or founders who are sitting on billions of paper profits include Jeffrey P. Bezos of and Michael S. Dell, the founder of Dell.

Resurgent executive pay has some corporate watchdogs worried that companies have already forgotten the lessons of the bust. Boards have promised to tie executive pay to company success, but by some measures pay is rising faster than performance. The median pay raise for chief executives last year — 23 percent — was roughly in line with the increase in net corporate profits. But it far exceeded the median gain in shareholders’ total return, which was 16 percent, as well as the median gain in revenue, which was 7 percent.

FOR the moment, shareholders aren’t storming executive suites. And while they received a say on pay under new federal rules last year, their votes are nonbinding. In other words, boards can still do as they please.

Pay specialists say companies are taking a hard look at these votes. Still, only about 1.5 percent of the 200 companies in the Equilar study were rebuffed by their shareholders on pay. A vast majority of the votes passed overwhelmingly, with 80 percent or 90 percent support, according to Mr. Boyd of Equilar.

Mr. Boyd says companies are making an effort to explain their pay plans. “We saw companies take it very seriously,” he says of the new rule.

In some respects, the mere possibility that shareholders might reject a proposed pay plan is enough to make corporate executives think again. Ms. Bowie of ISS says that outrageous payouts — such as so-called tax gross-ups, in which companies cover executives’ tax bills on perks like corporate jets — are becoming rarer.

Disney for instance, eliminated tax gross-ups this year in the face of shareholder ire, she said.

Company directors have the power to rein in runaway executive pay, but it is unclear whether either they or shareholders will do so in 2012. “It can be done if there is the will,” Ms. Bowie says.

By: Pradnya Joshi, The New York Times, July 2, 2011

July 4, 2011 Posted by | Big Business, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Consumers, Corporations, Democracy, Economic Recovery, Economy, Equal Rights, GOP, Media, Middle Class, Minimum Wage, Politics, Republicans, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Unemployed, Unemployment, Wall Street, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Our Narrow And Wrong Headed Economic Debate

There’s a janitor who lives in a studio apartment just outside of Stevens Point, Wis. He cleans the math and science buildings at a state university, a job he’s been doing for about 18 months, after a year of unemployment. He’s 43 and last year made $24,622. He doesn’t have kids, so he doesn’t qualify for a child-care tax credit. He doesn’t own a home or a hybrid car — those credits don’t apply to him, either. He hasn’t been enrolled in school since the 10th grade, so he definitely doesn’t qualify for any education credits or deductions. He just learned that Gov. Scott Walker’s new budget has slashed his benefits and that next year he’ll be bringing in about 16 percent less per month. And when he sits down to do his taxes next week, he’ll find that he paid the federal government around $1,400 in 2010.

 About a thousand miles to the east, in Fairfield, Conn., General Electric, one of the world’s largest multinational corporations, posted a $14.2 billion profit for 2010. When its accountants were finished working their magic, the company didn’t owe a single dollar in federal taxes.

“People can think what they think,” said Jeff Immelt, GE’s chief executive, in response to a growing anger to this story, first reported last week by the New York Times. What else is there to think, one wonders, but that with the muscle and money of lobbyists and lawyers, with the access and influence built over generations, GE has done not just the audacious but the outrageous. And it is not alone.

Exxon Mobil, for example, made $19 billion in profits in 2009 but paid no federal income taxes. In fact, it received a $156 million rebate from the IRS. Bank of America received a $1.9 billion tax refund from the IRS last year, even though it made $4.4 billion in profits and was handed a nearly $1 trillion bailout by taxpayers. The list, inconceivably, goes on.

And yet the conversation in Washington hasn’t turned to aggressively closing the loopholes that GE’s lobbyists created for its accountants to exploit. It hasn’t turned toward ending the ridiculous tax breaks on corporate dividends and capital gains that allow hedge fund managers and the very wealthy to pay the government a lower percentage than their middle-class employees. Instead, Congress is debating whether $33 billion in cuts to the social safety net is enough to make the Tea Party happy.

While Republicans in the House have stopped talking nearly altogether about jobs (and have embraced a budget that could cost the economy 700,000 of them, according to Moody’s chief economist Mark Zandi), the head of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, someone charged with finding a way to sustained job growth, is none other than Jeff Immelt himself, tax evader in chief. This is a systemic problem that neither belongs to nor can be solved by a single man. But for Immelt to keep his post with the administration now would be bad politics, bad policy and bad messaging. Yet as I write this, it doesn’t look as if he will be asked to step down.

Still, I am hopeful.

I am hopeful because an incredible spirit and energy has been unleashed. It was first shown during the Wisconsin labor battle, and it is being sustained and nurtured, and broadened to communities across the country. People are showing that they will not abide a system that finances corporate greed on the backs of the poor and middle class.

On Monday, the nation commemorated the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., who was killed in Memphis, where he had gone to fight for the rights of sanitation workers. Thousands gathered across America for a national day of action supporting public employees, other working people and trade unions in a common quest for jobs, justice and decency for all citizens. They participated in teach-ins, protests, demonstrations and vigils, all with a simple and deeply American message: It is time for the richest, most privileged among us to pay their fair share.

They spoke of the widening gulf in American politics, between the powerful and the powerless, between those who most need the government’s assistance and those most likely, instead, to receive it. They are not alone. For all the disappointment that progressives feel about this Congress, there are members who have been leaders and allies on Capitol Hill.

Consider Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Always the people’s champion, Sanders has called for closing corporate tax loopholes, which, if done, would raise more than $400 billion over a 10-year period. He’s also introduced legislation imposing a 5.4 percent surtax on millionaires that would yield up to $50 billion more a year — more than enough to protect Pell Grants and Head Start and other programs facing the chopping block.

He is joined by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who has introduced legislation to create a separate tax bracket for millionaires and billionaires — an option that garners the support of 81 percent of the American people, according to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll.

The common sense, humane response at this moment is to fight to reset the terms of a suffocatingly narrow and wrongheaded debate. This is the heritage of the progressive movement and, indeed, our obligation. The best principles of our country have been trampled by corporate immorality and right-wing extremism. But they can be restored. Martin Luther King Jr. knew as much when he fought for the sanitation workers of Tennessee 43 years ago. Now, we must know it too.

By: Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 5, 2011

April 10, 2011 Posted by | Big Business, Budget, Class Warfare, Congress, Corporations, Democracy, Economy, General Electric, Ideologues, Jobs, Labor, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, Public Employees, Right Wing, Tea Party | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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