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Top Bear Stearns brokers to get bonuses to stay

JPMorgan Chase & Co. is offering bonuses to the top brokers at Bear Stearns Cos. to get them to stay with the company after it is acquired, JPMorgan said Tuesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

JPMorgan Chase & Co. is offering bonuses to the top brokers at Bear Stearns Cos. to get them to stay with the company after it is acquired, JPMorgan said Tuesday.

The packages, which would go into effect when JPMorgan’s buyout is completed, are aimed at keeping Bear Stearns’ best-performing brokers from leaving for another investment bank.

“It’s been a challenging time for their brokers, and we want to make sure they know our desire to continue with the business,” said Jes Staley, chief executive of JPMorgan’s Asset Management Group.

Bear Stearns employees have seen most of their stock holdings get wiped out after JPMorgan this month offered to buy the struggling investment bank for a small fraction of what it was valued at a few weeks ago.

The package offers are a gesture to tell the brokers to “hold tight,” Staley said. “Our hope is to keep all the talented Bear brokers who are there.”

Staley would not confirm how much the bonuses were worth.

But a person close to the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the private nature of the negotiations, said that cash-and-stock bonuses of as much as 100 percent of annual output have been offered to top performing Bear Stearns brokers. The top performers are defined as those who earned at least $500,000 in commissions and fees over the past year.

Brokers earning $250,000 to $500,000 in commissions and fees will receive half their annual production, the person confirmed. And advisers will get an additional bonus based on the average annual rise in their production in the next three years.

Brokers producing less than $250,000 have not been offered a retention package.

The retention packages, first reported by Dow Jones Newswires, are yet another attempt by JPMorgan to keep Bear Stearns employees on board with the buyout plan.

On Monday, JPMorgan tried to appease disgruntled Bear Stearns employees by rising its buyout price fivefold, from $2 a share to $10 a share. Bear Stearns employees — who collectively own about one-third of the embattled investment bank — have a great deal of their wealth tied up in Bear Stearns stock, which was worth nearly $80 a share earlier this month.

JPMorgan does not appear concerned about the deal falling through at this point due to shareholder backlash. JPMorgan now has a 39.5 percent stake in the company, and Bear Stearns board members — who have pledged to vote in favor of the deal — together have a nearly 10 percent stake.

But retaining Bear’s talent is key to the success of the integration of the risk-taking investment bank Bear Stearns into the commercial bank JPMorgan Chase.

“Those folks really drive the value and the business,” said David Hinkel, a mergers-and-acquisitions consultant at Towers Perrin, soon after JPMorgan sweetened its offer Monday.

Hinkel said it is unusual for a buyer to take charge of retention efforts. Typically, he said, the buyer is not allowed to speak directly to employees of the acquired company until the deal is finalized.