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Why Bankers Paid Each Other Millions To Make Bad Trades

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Here's the latest from our partners over at ProPublica:

Two years before the financial crisis hit, Merrill Lynch confronted a serious problem. No one, not even the bank's own traders, wanted to buy the supposedly safe portions of the mortgage-backed securities Merrill was creating.

Bank executives came up with a fix that had short-term benefits and long-term consequences. They formed a new group within Merrill, which took on the bank's money-losing securities. But how to get the group to accept deals that were otherwise unprofitable? They paid them. The division creating the securities passed portions of their bonuses to the new group, according to two former Merrill executives with detailed knowledge of the arrangement. ...

Within Merrill Lynch, some traders called it a "million for a billion" — meaning a million dollars in bonus money for every billion taken on in Merrill mortgage securities. Others referred to it as "the subsidy." One former executive called it bribery. The group was being compensated for how much it took, not whether it made money.

Read the full story here

Update, Dec. 23: Adam Davidson will be discussing the story today on All Things Considered.

For more, see our collaborations with ProPublica:

"How Wall Street Made The Mortgage Crisis Worse," from Morning Edition.

"Inside Job," from This American Life.

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