London: Collapsed banking entity Merrill Lynch accelerated the payment of bonuses to employees just days before closing its acquisition by the Bank of America, says a media report.
“Merrill Lynch took the unusual step of accelerating bonus payments by a month last year, doling out billions of dollars to employees just three days before the closing of its sale to Bank of America,” the Financial Times has reported.
The daily pointed out that the timing is notable because the money was paid as Merrill’s losses were mounting and Ken Lewis, BofA’s Chief Executive, was seeking additional funds from the government’s troubled asset recovery programme to help close the deal.
Last week, the US Federal government had pumped in another $20 billion into Bank of America mainly to absorb losses incurred from the buyout of Merrill.
This is in addition to $25 billion which it ploughed each into Bank of America and Merrill last year, respectively.
Despite Merrill reporting a massive loss of $21.5 billion in the fourth quarter of 2008, the report noted that the company had “set aside $15 billion for 2008 compensation, a sum that was only 6% lower than the total in 2007, when the investment bank’s losses were smaller”.
“The bulk of 15 billion dollars compensation was paid out as salary and benefits throughout the course of the year,” the report said. Further, attributing to a person familiar with the matter, the report said that an estimated $3 to $4 billion dollars was paid out in bonuses in December.
Merrill and the Bank of America shareholders had approved the takeover on 5 December. “Three days later, Merrill’s compensation committee approved the bonuses, which were paid on 29 December,” it added.