Taxpayers are now on the hook for tens of billions of dollars of capital necessary to save Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE). The CEOs of both companies–the ones who ran them into the ground–have thankfully been shown the door. But they’re taking a nice pot of money with them.
Specifically, Dan Mudd, the CEO of Fannie Mae, is getting $9.3 million of severance for destroying his company. Richard Syron, the CEO of Freddie Mac, is getting $14.1 million–in part because of a clause he added to his employment contract two months ago, when it was clear the company was headed for disaster.
These severance payouts, of course, are chump-change relative to the usual CEO departure deals. And Mudd and Syron have taken it on the chin with shareholders, as their options and restricted stock are now largely worthless.
But the severance money comes right out of the pockets of taxpayers, who didn’t agree to the severance deals and aren’t ponying up to save the companies because they want to. Taxpayers are saving Fannie and Freddie because they have to–because Mudd and Syron were incompetent.
“Incompetent”? Is that too harsh? Absolutely not. Both men gambled big and lost bigger. The fact that they may not have appreciated how big a risk they were taking is no defence: If they didn’t, they should have.
Both Mudd and Syron chose to run their companies at an astronomical level of leverage, borrowing more than $50 for every $1 they put to work. Why? Because, in the good years, the companies made more money than they would have had they been levered, say, 20-to-1. Just because a housing crash of the current magnitude hasn’t happened since the 1930s doesn’t mean Mudd and Syron shouldn’t have guarded against it. Instead, they chose not to, and the companies–and shareholders and taxpayers–have paid the price.
Mudd and Syron should voluntarily renounce whatever severance they are “entitled” to and walk away empty-handed (like the shareholders whose interests they were hired to look out for). If they don’t, Paulson and the Treasury should refuse to pay them.
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