Merrill hands O'Neal $20.3m in stock

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Merrill Lynch paid chief executive Stan O'Neal $20.2m (€16.5m) in stock for last year and boosted awards to his seven top executives under a new three-year stock incentive programme.

O'Neal, 54, was paid 280,167 Merrill shares, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The firm handed out higher stock bonuses to other executives.

Last year, when virtually all of O'Neal's compensation was in stock, he received shares then valued at $31.3m.

Any additional compensation in cash, stock options or benefits will be disclosed in Merrill's 2005 proxy statement in March.

O'Neal, in his third year as Merrill's chief executive, guided the firm to record earnings of $5.22bn, up 18% from 2004.

Merrill Lynch has handed out more than $50m of shares to senior employees.

Greg Fleming, co-president of global markets and investment, received the highest stock award of 163,662 Merrill shares, worth $12m at the current share price.

Ahmass Fakahany, chief administrative officer, received $10.8m worth of shares. Robert McCann, president of global private client services, was awarded $8.9m. Jeffrey Edwards, chief financial officer, got $6.3m worth of shares. Rosemary Berkery, general counsel, was awarded $5.9m in stock.

At Merrill Lynch Investment Managers, Bob Doll, president and chief investment officer, was awarded $6.1m of shares.

The bank has introduced a new three-year managing partner incentive programme for certain members of executive and senior management, which will run in addition to their stock options and awards of restricted stock units.

The initial goal of the programme is to increase annual return on equity performance over the next three years.

The March filing may determine whether O'Neal remains Wall Street's highest-paid chief executive for a third year.

Goldman Sachs Henry Paulson, 59, got $37m in shares and stock options for the fiscal year that ended last November, the most disclosed so far.

Lehman Brothers' chief Richard Fuld, 59, received $14.9m in stock and 350,000 options.

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