Is TARP a TRAP?

Ever since the AIG bonus brouhaha, TARP recipients knew the day would come when federal officials would step in to manage their compensation structure. Several have been scrambling to raise the private capital necessary to repay their TARP loans just to avoid the anticipated executive compensation restrictions. There are reports today that Treasury Secretary Geithner may announce new guidelines as early as this week. However, he is not currently scheduled to appear on Capitol Hill on this topic until the House Financial Services Committee hearing on June 18th. Whenever he makes his announcement, we expect he will explain that the new executive compensation rules will apply to some TARP recipients permanently – those that accepted more than one round of bailout money -- regardless of whether or not they have paid back the federal funds. In addition, it is also reported that Treasury will be suggesting "guidelines" to be used for executive compensation in financial services firms that have not receive TARP assistance.

It appears the restrictions will be imposed on a company’s 25 highest earners. Reportedly, federal bank regulators will also be granted new authority to impose compensation restrictions on banks not in the TARP program whose pay systems encourage too much risk. How much risk is too much and who determines that remain important questions.

The expected move to extend the pay restrictions beyond the life of the TARP involvement in the firms raises some important questions. Are restrictions that outlive TARP money in the firms consistent with the agreements the institutions made originally with the government? Will there be any sunset whatsoever on the proposed restrictions? Where GM is concerned, will the company emerging from bankruptcy be considered a "new" company?

To the extent the new guidelines would reach into companies who have not received TARP funds, it is legitimate to ask the question as to whether these are a legitimate shareholder's rights issues or an overreach by federal regulators into areas best left to the executive suite and the boardroon.

Since there are very few facts available and only rumors, Financial Reform Watch will reserve judgment until the Treasury releases the new rules, however, there is much to ponder in the meantime.

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