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Moody's analysts give thumbs down to Jefferies pay

NEW YORK (AP) -- Moody's analysts aren't pleased with the big pay package for the CEO of Jefferies Group Inc.

In a note Monday, analysts Peter Nerby and Christian Plath said the pay package for Richard Handler, the head of the investment bank, "once again highlights the issue of excessive compensation at investment banks." Jefferies said last week that Handler will get a 2012 pay package of $19 million, as measured by the bank's calculations.

That's a marked difference from rivals like JPMorgan Chase's Jamie Dimon and Morgan Stanley's James Gorman, who will both get pay cuts because of some disappointing results at their banks.

The analysts acknowledged that Jefferies has fared well under Handler, avoiding the large losses — related to both investments and lawsuits — that have plagued many of its larger peers. Jefferies is selling itself to Leucadia National Corp., and the stock has jumped nearly 40 percent since the day the deal was announced in November. The shares were up 4 cents at $19.99 in Monday afternoon trading.

Even so, the analysts said the development could hurt investors who hold Jefferies bonds.

Much of Handler's compensation is awarded over three-year periods, and he and the bank have to meet certain goals for him to get the pay. But the Moody's analysts said that time frame wasn't long enough, and could encourage "excessive risk-taking."

"History has shown," the analysts wrote, "that tail risks can take longer than three years to appear."

The analysts also said the big pay package "suggests that the board is insensitive to the concerns of regulators and policymakers regarding compensation levels at investment banks."

In the aftermath of the financial crisis, the government has tried to trim pay at banks. One new rule allows shareholders of public companies to vote on whether they approve of the CEO's pay, in so-called say on pay voting.

Jefferies said last week that its board, which sets Handler's pay, was "unanimously impressed" with the bank's performance and Handler's role in it. In fact the board was prepared to pay Handler an extra $3 million, but he declined it.