In its last days as an independent company, Merrill gave performance-based bonuses exclusively to employees earning $300,000 a year or more and holding a rank of vice president or higher, according to their financial statements. $3.62 billion was handed out to these executives - a sum equal to 36.2 percent of the $10 billion in taxpayer funds that were allocated to Merrill as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) before the bonuses were paid.
The company had been failing as a result of misadventures in the now infamous mortgaged-backed securities market which began crumbling with the decline of home values as the bubble burst. The performance bonuses were determined by Merrill's compensation committee on December 8, 2008, before Merrill revealed that it lost $15 billion in the final three months of 2008, unusual timing according to court documents filed by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo in an ongoing suit against Merrill's former CEO.
In prior years, Merrill paid performance bonuses of this type after the end of the year, in January or February of the next year.