By Steve Eder
NEW YORK (Reuters) - In a sign it is concerned about Main Street anger over bankers' compensation, Goldman Sachs Group Inc <GS.N> decided to give its CEO Lloyd Blankfein and other top executives lower bonuses than many had expected.
Goldman, which reported a record profit for 2009, will pay the executives bonuses in stock worth $9 million each, far below what they got in the previous record profit year of 2007. Blankfein received $67.9 million for that year.
The bonus, which was less than the roughly $16 million that rival bank JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon was rewarded with earlier in the day, was far below the $100 million that at least one British newspaper had predicted.
The decision follows months of criticism of Goldman, partly because of expectations that its soaring profits would lead to massive bonuses just over a year after it was aided by the government through bailout funds and other financial support.
Blankfein's bonus is such that he will not even be among the highest paid people at Goldman, the firm he has run since 2006. Star traders and bankers within Goldman's ranks will almost certainly be receiving more.
"He is going to have a lot of people two levels below him who are making more than he does," said Alan Johnson, a Wall Street Compensation consultant.
Blankfein's bonus is an increase from last year, when he did not take one. He received a base salary of $600,000 for 2009.
The firm made it clear in a statement that external pressures had contributed to the decision.
"The firm produced very good results for 2009, but the environment is very difficult and the board was mindful of that difficult environment in making decisions about executive compensation," Goldman spokesman Lucas van Praag said.
Blankfein, along with President and Chief Operating Officer Gary Cohn and Chief Financial Officer David Viniar, received 58,381 stock units, worth $8.99 million based on Friday's closing share price.
The units do not convert into shares until 2011 at the earliest, and once converted they cannot be sold or transferred before January 2015, according to the filing.
It was not immediately clear whether the reserved stock could be used as collateral for loans.
'WAY BELOW THE MARKET'
The smaller than expected pay packages were the latest sign of how Goldman has sought to soften its image after being excoriated by some commentators and politicians for reaping huge profits after benefiting from various forms of government help.
Blankfein, himself, has found himself in the spotlight time and again during the past year, most notably after he told London's Sunday Times newspaper in November that banks serve a social purpose and are doing "God's work."
The backlash against Goldman has fueled efforts in Washington to enact reforms against the banking industry and to crack down on banker pay.
But Goldman has answered critics in recent months by announcing top managers would be paid no cash, all stock bonuses, and by surprisingly capping its compensation pool at $16.2 billion for the year -- well short of the $20 billion record set in 2007. It has also made larger charitable contributions than in other years.
"He has quickly gotten religion in terms of being responsive to the ill populist winds that are blowing in his face," said David Dietze, chief investment officer at Point View Financial Services, a Goldman Sachs shareholder. "The citizenry is just outraged that these companies, which took TARP, so quickly turned around and forgot their humble bailouts and are showering themselves with cash."
Goldman received and later repaid a $10 billion taxpayer from the U.S. Treasury's Troubled Asset Relief Program, but also benefited from the rescue of its counterparts, including American International Group Inc <AIG.N>, and through cheap borrowing from the Federal Reserve.
If Goldman has managed its way through a difficult year in terms of public relations, some are convinced that 2009 bonuses will be a mere blip for the firm known for its payouts.
"They got paid pretty well the past couple of years, so maybe they can just pay themselves less well this year, then maybe it blows over in a year or two and they can start paying themselves pretty handsomely again," said Blake Howells, director of equity research at Becker Capital in Portland, Oregon.
He called the pay amount "small and pretty restrictive."
Dimon's bonus was in a mixture of restricted shares and options, and he did not take a cash bonus.
Goldman Sachs shares closed up 2.3 percent on Friday at $154.16.
(Reporting by Steve Eder; additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel and Elinor Comlay; editing by Carol Bishopric, Gary Hill)