Goldman Exec Bonuses Counter Wall Street's 'New Normal'

Tickers in this article: GS JPM

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Goldman Sachs(GS) Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein is set to see his stock compensation rise sharply, in a bonus that reflects a sharp recovery in the shares and earnings of the standalone investment bank in 2012.

The move, along with rising stock awards for top lieutenants such as outgoing CFO David Viniar and COO Gary Cohn, may indicate Goldman's thinking of executive pay levels in a more normal earnings environment.

Still, the stock awards could conflict with a belief that Goldman's is poised for a tighter management of its expense, which impressed investors in fourth quarter earnings released on Wednesday.

According to a set of filings released to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Goldman chief executive Lloyd Blankfein will get 94,320 restricted stock units that vest over a three year period that can't be sold until 2018. At current share prices, the award is worth roughly $13.3 million after Goldman's near 40% stock surge in the past 12 months.

Blankfein's stock bonus is nearly double his stock award in 2011, when the CEO was given a stock bonus worth roughly $7 million, on the heels of a disappointing year for Goldman. Friday's stock award, however, is similar to Blankfein's 2010 stock earning of $12.6 million, according to SEC filings.

Retiring CFO Viniar and current COO Cohn will receive 85,136 in restricted stock awards, Friday SEC filings show. Meanwhile, incoming CFO Mark Schwartz will receive an award of 37,428 shares.

In fourth quarter earnings, Goldman Sachs was able to impress investors with higher than expected earnings growth and flat expense that pushed overall expense ratio's well below 40%, exceeding analyst estimates.

Generally flat expense figures reflected a 6% increase in overall employee compensation and benefits to $12.9 billion, and a 3% decline in headcount over 2012. Non-compensation expense fell 4% in 2012 to $10 billion, Goldman said in fourth quarter earnings.

Goldman still hasn't detailed Blankfein or any other executive's cash bonus, however, a Bloomberg News report, citing unnamed sources, notes that stock compensation may represent 70% of total payouts, indicating Blankfein could receive a $5.7 million cash bonus.

Blankfein's rising pay contrasts sharply to that of JPMorgan (JPM) chief executive Jamie Dimon, who saw his bonus halved to $11.5 million in 2012, after the bank was tangled in a trading fiasco known as the 'London Whale' that has so far led to over $6 billion in losses.

While Blankfein's pay figures are likely to raise some eyebrows, they still pale in comparison to pre-crisis awards even as the bank's earnings per share recover to peak levels. In 2007, Blankfein took home a $27 million cash bonus as part of an overall compensation package worth $68.5 million in cash and stock.

-- Written by Antoine Gara in New York

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