This time 12 months ago, bankers at Merrill had reason to feel rather pleased with themselves. Even though the organisation made a $27bn loss for 2008, they'd just been allocated portions of a bonus pool totalling $3.6bn. 700 got more than $1m; 53 got more than $5m.
One year later, and the Merrill Lynch bonus issue refuses to die quietly. Bank of America is currently embroiled in a court case brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission alleging that it misled investors about the bonuses paid at Merrill last year. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is also expected to file charges related to the Merrill bonuses against BofA and several of its senior executives.
If senior Merrill Lynch bankers get little or no bonus for 2009, therefore, it should hardly come as a great surprise.
Rumours (possibly spurious) are flying around suggesting this will indeed be the case. According to one headhunter, senior staff at Merrill in London have been informed that they will receive small bonuses this year on the grounds that they were over-compensated for 2008. "They've been told they're on a target list for not getting paid after last year," he alleges.
Another headhunter alleges that Andrea Orcel, BofA Merrill's executive chairman of global banking and markets, who last year received a $33.8m bonus, has said that some senior people at the bank will be disappointed with their bonuses for 2009.
The headhunter predicts this will cause consternation, particularly in ECM, where people have had a good year. However, the other says most senior former Merrill bankers will stay where they are. "At that level, where else is there to go?" he says. "There really aren't that many opportunities commensurate with your ego or job title."
A spokesman for Merrill Lynch declined to comment.