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Pay Czar Hopes Limits Set Precedent, Inspire Firms

Source: WSJ

Posted on 14 Dec 2009

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Obama administration pay czar Kenneth R. Feinberg, in an interview with "PBS NewsHour" Friday evening, said pay restrictions will set a precedent and hopefully encourage other U.S. firms to voluntarily use the government-based principles.

Feinberg used Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) as an example and said the firm "basically adopted some of the key principles" that were announced, which include no cash bonuses and long-term incentive pay based on stock that has to be held for five years before it's redeemed.

The restrictions will apply to any 2009 compensation not already distributed to the 26th to 100th highest-paid employees at American International Group Inc. (AIG), Citigroup Inc. (C), General Motors Co. and GMAC. They will also serve as the starting point for 2010 pay guidelines Feinberg will hand down for the companies under his purview.

"My primary objective is to get that money back to the people who lent the money to these companies," he said, adding that the pay restrictions will hopefully cause compensation to be on par with a firm's financial soundness and success.

Administration officials are concerned that pay limits could drive away talent, but Feinberg maintained that White House and Treasury Department officials wouldn't impose rules that could reduce a company's likelihood of repaying government funds.

Additionally, President Barack Obama plans to speak with bank officials Monday, Feinberg said, pointing out that the "effort must be to convince Wall Street that what we are doing with this limited group of financial institutions and other companies like GM and GMAC can have a positive impact."

Feinberg, however, said the pay limits themselves won't prevent another financial meltdown. Feinberg deflected potential success in that area to moves made in Congress to pass financial overhaul legislation. He also said other administration initiatives, domestically and abroad, are more aimed at dealing with curbing future downturns.

"If you look at the whole panoply of reforms together, as a package, there is a real attempt by the federal government to rein in excessive risk-taking on the part of financial services industry," Feinberg said.