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Finance CEO Pay Rose 20% in 2011, Even As Stocks Stumbled

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2011 was not a particularly good year for financial stocks: 35 of the 50-largest financial company stocks fell last year, with the sector losing over 17% vs. a flat performance for the S&P 500.

Yet even as the sector struggled, the average pay of finance company CEOs rose 20.4% last year, according to new analysis in Bloomberg Markets magazine.

As Henry and I discuss in the accompanying clip, it's very hard to justify outrageous CEO pay packages even when the stocks are going up -- especially relative to what average workers make. It's nearly impossible to justify them when CEO pay becomes detached from shareholder returns.

Leading the pack were KKR co-CEOs Henry Kravis and George Roberts, who received combined compensation of nearly $60 million last year even as shares of the private equity firm slid 5.4%.

Coming up the rear was Warren Buffett, whose $500,000 salary ranked dead last among the CEOs of the 50-largest public finance firms in the U.S. (Bloomberg's ranking is based on compensation tables in firms' annual SEC filings and thus may omit some deferred compensation - and it certainly isn't a ranking of the CEOs total net worth.)

What's notable about the rankings is that bank CEOs, who get most of the media coverage, were overshadowed on the compensation front by their counterparts in private equity, insurance and financial services.

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon was the highest-paid banker on the list, coming in at number four with $23.1 million, up 11% from 2010 even as JPMorgan shares fell 20%.

Dimon was number nine on a separate ranking in the Bloomberg study -- of CEOs who provided the least shareholder value over the three years from 2009 to 2011. (Notably, the study was done before revelations of JPMorgan's big losses on the 'London Whale' trades, which has wiped out billions in shareholder value this year.)

Topping that dubious list is Citigroup's Vikram Pandit. Citi shares fell 61% for the three years 2009-2011, which made Pandit's compensation very costly for shareholders -- even after he took $1 in compensation for 2009 and 2010. In April, Citi shareholders voted to reject Pandit's $15 million pay package for 2012, although the vote was non-binding. (See: Shareholders Snub Citi CEO, Reject Pandit's $15M Pay Package)

In separate but related news, this week has brought headlines about lawsuits against Bank of America and former CEO Ken Lewis for allegedly misleading shareholders about the state of Merrill Lynch at the time of the firms' 2008 merger. In addition, the trustee overseeing the MF Global bankruptcy says he may pursue legal charges against former CEO Jon Corzine for "breach of fiduciary duty and negligence."

I'm not suggesting CEOs of other public companies are guilty of anything and Lewis and Corzine are presumed innocent until proven otherwise. But the outsized pay packages show how the incentives to break (or just 'bend') the rules remain staggeringly high -- and haven't really changed since the crisis of 2008.

Aaron Task is the host of The Daily Ticker. You can follow him on Twitter at @aarontask or email him at altask@yahoo.com

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