Donald Trump is strong and solid, like a freight ship battered by stormy seas. Meanwhile, Angelo Mozilo of Countrywide and Don Imus are riding around on rickety catamarans. All that and more metaphors in our daily roundup of real-estate, law, media and finance news.
• After testifying in front of the House Committee on Government and Oversight Reform last week about the gargantuan pay package he picked up while his company hemorrhaged money, Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo made Congress a nice little offer: "Mr. Mozilo said he had left a card in each Congressional office with a help line for constituents having problems with their loans. He added that if the number didn’t work, “call me— I take this very seriously.’” [NYT]
• Since the federal death-penalty statute was revived in 1998, New York federal juries have been reluctant to impose the death sentence. [NYT]
• You know those ads for legal firms in the Metro? Yeah, they're really not all that effective. [Legal Blog Watch]
Oh, not really. We're just exaggerating. That's what the media does, according to former Citigroup CEO Chuck Prince, Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo, and former Merrill Lynch CEO Stan O'Neal,all of whom who have all offered up the line that the media has "grossly exaggerated" the amounts of their compensation in their testimony in front of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee today. “The reality is that I received no severance package," said O'Neal. This is technically true: but he did recieve $161.5 million in cash, stock and stock options upon his "retirement" in October. Over at Portfolio, Elizabeth Olson is live-blogging the hearing, and she has reported that, among other things, Countrywide Financial CEO Mozilo looks "tan and confident," but everyone looks totes unhappy. The day started out with a bang: Chair Henry Waxman, who called for the hearing, wondered aloud whether the "hundreds of millions of dollars [the CEOs] were given represent a complete disconnect from reality," but Republican representative Tom Davis killed his joy by saying that they "should not degenerate into a sanctimonious search for scapegoats.… Punishing individual corporate executives with public floggings like this may be a politically satisfying ritual — like an island tribe sacrificing a virgin to a grumbling volcano." Indeed. Also, who knew Davis was so creative?
Credit C.E.O. Comp Under Fire, IV [Daily Brief/Portfolio]
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As you may know, Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo, recently deposed Merrill Lynch CEO Stan O'Neal, and recently deposed Citigroup CEO Chuck Prince are scheduled to testify in front of the House and Government Reform Committee tomorrow, having been called by Representative Henry Waxman of California to defend the gigantic paychecks they received precisely as their companies were hemorrhaging billions of dollars in subprime investments. Muckraked got hold of a memo Waxman wrote summarizing the issue for his colleagues, and it is kind of awesome. "During the five-year period from January 2002 through December 2006, the stock of Countrywide, Merrill Lynch, and Citigroup appreciated, and the three CEOs collectively received more than $460 million in compensation," he wrote. Then, "Any alignment between the compensation of the CEOs and their shareholders' interests appears to break down in 2007, however." But the best part is an e-mail from October 2006, wherein Mozilo smacks down shareholders who suggest his $120 million compensation might be a little much.
Quoth the e-mail:
I appreciate your input but at this stage in my life at Countrywide this process is no longer about money but more about respect and acknowledgement of my accomplishments.… Boards have been placed under enormous pressure by the left wing business press and the envious leaders of unions and other so called 'CEO Comp Watchers' and therefore Boards are being forced to protect themselves irrespective of the potential negative long term impact on public companies. I strongly believe that a decade from now there will be a recognition that entrepreneurship has been driven out of the public sector resulting in underperforming companies and a willingness on the part of Boards to pay for performance.
That's right, Angelo. You've got to fight those liberal bastards or else they'll take away everything that is right and good in the world. Now go tell it on the mountain, friend.
[Muckraked via Salon]
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Countrywide executives were supposed to be entertaining bankers this week at the Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch ski resort, a fairy-tale lodge nestled in the mountains near Aspen, Colorado, where rooms start at $725 and a Spago restaurant offers $140 caviar and Kobe steaks, served with a side of wasabi mashed potatoes, for a mere $105. But alas, it is not to be.
This morning, Countrywide decided to cancel their getaway, in light of "recent events," a spokesman told the Times. They didn't specify which recent events. Was it poor snow conditions? Too much work? Or, oooooh, pressure from Chuck Schumer, perhaps? "This brings new meaning to 'snow job,'" the senator said over the weekend, when he urged the company to "call off this shameful ski getaway and put all [the] company's resources into refinancing the borrowers Countrywide took advantage of," in a written statement. Then there was the Post story headlined, "Let Them Eat Kobe." And lest we forget! CEO Angelo Mozilo is scheduled to testify in front of Congress next week, where he'll be asked to justify his ginormous salary in light of the ginormous losses that Countrywide suffered in the past year ($422 mill in the fourth quarter!) and layoffs of 11,000 employees. Just those kind of events. Nothing major.
Countrywide Puts an End to Ski Junket [NYT]
Congress to grill Mozilo, O'Neal, Prince over pay [CNN]
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Not so fast there, boys. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chair Henry Waxman isn't going to let fired Merrill Lynch CEO Stan O'Neal and fired Citigroup CEO Charles Prince III waste away in Margaritaville just yet. He's organizing a little field trip down to Washington February 7, where he's holding a hearing as part of an "ongoing investigation into executive pay" related to subprime. The executives will be expected to answer questions about the massive pay and severance packages they received after making a mess of their companies and why they thought they could get away with armfuls of money while leaving the rest of America holding the bag. Yeah. Who do they think they are, anyway? "You collected tens of millions of dollars in payments and other compensation upon your departure from Citigroup," Waxman wrote in a letter to Prince, according to the Financial News. "You should plan to address how it aligns with the interests of Citigroup’s shareholders and whether this level of compensation is justified in light of your company’s recent performance and its role in the national mortgage crisis." Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo has also been invited along for the ride, since Bank of America announced they would acquire that ailing beast for $4 billion on Friday, and if Mozilo, thought he was going to go sailing into the sunset scot-free, well, we guess he's got another think coming.
Congress Panel Wants to Grill Subprime CEOs on Pay [Reuters]
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• Victoria's Secret is featuring Adriana Lima in its Super Bowl ads because of her "spectacular eyes." Right, her eyes. [WWD]
• Diane Von Furstenberg has launched her first line of shoes. [FWD]
• John Bartlett is joining Tim Gunn at Liz Claiborne. He'll be designing a men's sportswear line. [Investor's Business Daily]