31 Jan 2009

Obama angered at 'shameful' Wall Street bonuses

7:15 am on 31 January 2009

United States President Barack Obama has reacted angrily to reports that executives of American banks and other financial institutions awarded themselves billions of dollars in bonuses last year.

Mr Obama said the payouts, totalling $US18.4 billion, were shameful and highly irresponsible.

He said the decision by Wall Street bankers to give themselves big bonuses last year, when many institutions were teetering on the brink of collapse, was the height of irresponsibility.

The bonuses, revealed in a survey of tax returns by New York state's chief financial officer, were 44% lower than in the previous year and about the same level as in 2004.

But Mr Obama made the point that the bonuses came as many financial institutions were now asking for taxpayers' money to prevent them from collapsing as the global financial crisis continues.

He asked that people on Wall Street asking for help "show some restraint, some discipline and some sense of responsibility".

"The American people understand that we've got a big hole that we've got to dig ourselves out of, but they don't like the idea that people are digging a bigger hole even as they're being asked to fill it up."

$1400 rubbish bin

In a meeting with congressional leaders last Friday, Obama criticised companies receiving bailout money who had been "renovating bathrooms or offices."

That was a reference to reports that former Merrill Lynch chief executive John Thain had spent $US1.2 million fixing up his office last year, including $US35,115 on a commode and $US1,405 for a rubbish bin.

Mr Thain subsequently wrote to Merrill employees that he planned to reimburse Bank of America Corp, which acquired Merrill and then ousted Mr Thain. He called the spending "a mistake in the light of the world we live in today."

On Tuesday, Citigroup, canceled plans to buy a $US50 million executive jet after a White House spokesman said Mr Obama did not believe using private jets was "the best use of money" by companies receiving taxpayer assistance.

Both Bank of America and Citigroup have been recipients of massive government bailouts.

Some Wall Street chief executives and government officials declined to attend this week's meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, partly out of concern they would be perceived to be living it up in the Swiss ski resort.