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3 Merrill officials may get $200m

Bloomberg News / September 17, 2008
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NEW YORK - Merrill Lynch & Co. chief executive John Thain and two former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. colleagues he recruited may reap almost $200 million for their year running Merrill if they leave or are given lesser roles after Bank of America Corp. buys the brokerage.

Thain, who got a $15 million bonus when hired in December, stands to get an additional $11 million in accelerated stock payouts if he doesn't stay after the deal, compensation consultant Graef Crystal said.

Trading chief Thomas Montag, 51, who joined in August, may get $76 million, including bonus and accelerated awards. Strategy head Peter Kraus, 56, was given $95 million, including bonus and stock awards, to replace a Goldman package he had to forfeit, people familiar with the matter said.

While Thain managed to negotiate a merger even as rival Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. sank into bankruptcy, shareholders may resent the executive payouts. Merrill's stock returned more than 13 percent a year from 2000 through 2006. Since Dec. 1 of last year, Thain's first day, the shares have fallen more than 60 percent, as write-downs on devalued mortgage holdings eroded the company's financial results.

"Investors will definitely be disappointed," said Richard Bove, of Ladenburg Thalmann & Co. "Thain's claim to fame here is that he kept them from going bankrupt." Merrill spokesman William Halldin declined to comment.

Merrill shares plunged 36 percent last week as investors speculated the New York-based firm might suffer the fate of Lehman. Since the deal was disclosed early Monday, they have climbed 17 percent.

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