Two years ago, a series of odd billboards greeted passers-by in New York, Atlanta, and the San Francisco Bay Area. They showed a cuddling, smiling couple under the title "Charles & YaVaughnie" and listed a website documenting the couple's romance. Research only deepened the mystery: The man was an Oracle president and already married - and not to the woman on the outdoor ad.
Remember credit default swaps? AIG? Hopelessly entangled exotic financial instruments tied to esoteric asset valuations that caused cascading defaults in 2008 and threatened to tank the global financial system unless taxpayers ate all the losses? Remember how we reformed Wall St. to make sure that never repeated itself? Someone tell Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, and Morgan Stanley, because they've teed the whole damn thing up again, this time in Europe.
Morgan Stanley chairman John Mack was gracious enough to forego a bonus for 2009. But pretty much everyone else did just fine. Despite the fact the bank reported its first annual loss in its 74-year history this morning, the firm said it set aside $14.4 billion to pay employee bonuses and salaries, "an astonishing figure, even by the gilded standards of Wall Street" and one that's up 30 percent from 2008. Of course, it's always possible the windfall led a magnanimous banker to toss a couple of coins in the direction of the poor guy assigned to polish the Morgan Stanley logo this afternoon. Feel free to consider that the upside if you'd like! [NYT, FT]
Credit where credit's due: Not every Wall Street chieftain is planning to take home home an eight-figure bonus at the end of the year. Outgoing Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack announced today that he is foregoing a bonus in 2009 for the third year in a row. "That makes him the first of the major banking chiefs to do so, at a time when many outside the industry are criticizing the probable return of outsized bonuses as these firms return to profitability." [NYT]
Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and JPMorgan Chase are all on track to pay record bonuses this year, as you've probably heard. "The firms—the three biggest banks to exit the Troubled Asset Relief Program—will hand out $29.7 billion in bonuses, according to analysts' estimates. That's up 60 percent from last year and more than the previous high of $26.8 billion in 2007." But as Goldman chief Lloyd Blankfein explained to the London Times over the weekend, they're doing "God's work," and you can't put a price on that, can you? [Bloomberg]
Did you hear that a handful of large Wall Street banks have been getting the swine flu vaccine to give to their "high-risk" employees, even though area hospitals have yet to receive it or are now running low on their supplies? A little public pressure seems to be paying off. Morgan Stanley says it will return its 1,000 doses to the city health department since some hospitals are still without the vaccine. But not every firm is following suit. Goldman Sachs is still "more important than you are," reports the Wall Street Journal. But you'd probably figured that out already. [WSJ]
Wall Street CEOs make a fortune, as you're undoubtedly aware. Even the chief executives of banks that have been bailed-out by Washington or have gone bust usually end up doing nicely. But despite the riches and perks these men have accumulated and massive egos they've developed along the way, few of them would do all that well in a beauty contest. Because it's high time that Wall Street take advantage of the miracle of modern science—and because we care, dammit—we took the liberty of contacting Dr. Anthony Youn, a board-certified plastic surgeon who has made appearances on Dr. 90210 and the Rachael Ray Show, to ask him what procedures he'd suggest these titans of finance consider if they want to look their very best. Dr. Youn's answers and cost estimates—and our commentary—is below.
Former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain is no friend of Ken Lewis, the outgoing chief executive of Bank of America. Thain worked with Lewis last year to engineer the merger of Merrill and BofA, but was kicked to the curb shortly after the deal was complete and almost instantly turned into the fall guy for the messy merger, at least in the version of events that Lewis recounted to analysts, reporters, and government officials.
• Jonathan Benno, Per Se's acclaimed chef de cuisine, has confirmed his plans to move on: He'll be part-owner and executive chef at a new (and as-yet unnamed) restaurant under construction in the plaza of Lincoln Center. [NYT]
• Has Minetta Tavern stopped accepting reservations from people who don't happen to be close, personal friends of owner Keith McNally? [GS, Eater]
• If you don't have a credit or debit card, don't go to Commerce. As noted previously, it's one of the only NYC eateries where cash isn't welcome. [WSJ]
• The '21' Club auctions off 640 rare bottles of wine at Christie's tomorrow. [BN]
• Yet another cupcake bakery chain is planning to open its doors in NYC. [VV]