Shareholders Strike Back

by Gerri Willis

At Citigroup's annual meeting, owners of the stock voted 55 to 45 against a $50 million executive pay package, including $15 million for CEO Vikram Pandit.

This is all thanks to the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law.

Buried in its 2,300 pages is a requirement for public companies to hold "say on pay" votes for executive compensation.

Now, the vote is non-binding, but the chairman of Citigroup Dick Parsons said he took it seriously, and promised the board would consider it carefully.

Shareholders have every right to be upset with Vikram.

Over the last decade, Citigroup has had the worst stock price performance of the big banks, but consistently had some of the highest executive compensation.

Citi shares up slightly today, but they're down more than 80% since the financial crisis hit.

They're down 93% from 2006.

Last year, Pandit got a $1.7 million salary, plus a $5.3 million cash bonus, and he got a $40 million retention package that pays out through 2015.

Getting a bonus should be a piece of cake for these execs, too, since the standard for the payout is an earnings track record half of what it was in 2009 and 2010 when the economy was in the tank.

Whoa! Don't get too ambitious!

Look, to be fair to Pandit, for 2009 and 2010, he accepted just a buck in salary.

But to be fair to shareholders, Citi's quarterly dividend is one penny.

At the start of this week, Citigroup announced its first-quarter profit had fallen two percent from a year earlier on a paltry one percent rise in revenue.

The Federal Reserve turned the company down on its request for a share buyback or dividend after Citi flunked the central bank's stress test in March. And don't forget the bank was one of many bailed out during the financial crisis.

Some people bridle at anyone earning millions of dollars a year, but not me.

If you can grow sales, boost the bottom line, raise the share price, then by all means you've earned a fat paycheck.

But what we can't do is reward mediocrity and failure.

There's a lot not to like about Dodd-Frank - about 2,299 pages' worth if you ask me - but shareholder "say on pay"? That's OK with me.

Last year shareholders voted down just two percent of executive pay plans. Maybe this is the start of a new trend.

Red Tape Tsunami

by Gerri Willis

Bank of America is planning to introduce a monthly fee for even the most basic checking accounts unless customers agree to bank online, buy more products or maintain certain balances.

This all comes after the huge consumer backlash last year when it tried to implement a five dollar per month debit card fee.

We led the outrage that forced Bank of America to reverse that decision.

So, does the nation's second largest bank just hate their customers or is there a reason for the rising costs?

Well Bank of America and others blame Dodd-Frank.

This was the bank regulation law written in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

The one that was supposed to save us from another financial crash, and keep our money safe.

But as is normally the case with red tape, it's more of a mess than a solution.

Check this out...

The original law that set up America's banking system following the Civil war was 29 pages long.

The law that created the Federal Reserve in 1913 was a whopping 32 pages.

And Glass-Steagall - the regulatory law that went into effect after the big stock market crash in 1929 - that was 37 pages.

Dodd-frank? 848 pages long!

I don't think I’m going out on a limb here when I say who in Congress read all that?!? By the way, the math was done by the magazine, The Economist.

The other problem: an official at Yale Law School Jonathan Macey says: "Laws classically provide people with rules. Dodd-Frank is not directed at people. It is an outline directed at bureaucrats and it instructs them to make still more regulations and to create more bureaucracies."

In other words, Dodd-Frank is like the mother of all regulations because it will create huge numbers of regulations.

Dodd-Frank's authors said all of these regulations and bureaucracies would be in place within 18 months. We're 18 months in; we're not done - far from it. Now, experts are saying Dodd-Frank rule writing say it could take a decade! Don't you feel safer about your money?

For starters, of the 400 rules the law calls for, only 93 have been written. That's less than a quarter.

Dodd-Frank also called for 87 studies to be conducted within these 18 months, and only 50 have been completed.

In an effort to strengthen regulation, it has put a host of regulators in charge of the same thing.

The result of this bewildering set of rules is this: Nobody knows who does what when.

That's just the over-arching problems with this law.

But Dodd-Frank isn't just governing from the margins. Its rules are so specific and expensive, everyone from hedge funds to manufacturers are forced to pay up.

The Economist points out a three-page rule written in October that has turned into a 92-page form costing hedge funds upwards of $150k for just the first year it's implemented, and another $40k every year after.

I normally don't have a lot of sympathy for hedge funds, but this is a little ridiculous, don't you think?!?

And Dodd-Frank doesn't stop at the door of financial institutions. Manufacturers will have to report to information about stuff they buy overseas to the SEC, which could cost them billions of dollars. Can you say government overreach?

And then, of course, there are the banks. The big bad villains that have single handedly ruined our economy, crushed our spirit and sucked the life out of the small business world… Oh no… sorry that's the government.

Because these banks will now have to fork over hundreds of millions of dollars annually, and they're already making you and I pay for this with all these new fees, and I’m not just talking about Bank of America.

Even supporters of this law originally are now saying we need to start over and come up with a simple plan.

I say, if simple is just too hard for anyone in Washington, let's try a law that works.

One that doesn't have loopholes big enough to drive a tractor trailer through.

Or one that doesn't make you and me - the taxpayers, the consumers - responsible for paying for it.

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