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CNBC's Gasparino: Merrill Lynch To Hand Out Rich Bonuses

Last week CNBC reported that Goldman Sachs would be showering the biggest bonuses on its stars: $25 million each to about 50 top producers in the firm, mostly those in the trading area, particularly people who trade commodities.

But Goldman isn't the only firm that will be paying its top people extraordinarily well for their work in 2006. A senior executive at Merrill Lynch says the bonus pool there is huge as well; about 30% larger than last year.

While as many as a dozen people at the firm will be in the $25 million range, the highest paid person is likely to be the company's CEO, Stan O'Neal, who according to this senior executive could pull down as much as $50 million in compensation for 2006.

The Merrill bonuses are interesting because the firm has done very well this year, albeit quietly. O'Neal has increased the firm's risk profile -- meaning that traders at Merrill roll the dice more with the firm's own money, and it has paid off with huge profits.

One caveat with the Merrill bonus picture: Unlike Goldman, Merrill deals with small investors who may not like the fact that people at the top of the firm are pulling down Goldman-sized salaries.

Merrill will make public its compensation in late January, and public perception is something that top officials will be weighing. But if the decision was made today, O'Neal's salary would be growing from the $35 million he made last year to around $50 million.

Charles Gasparino will update the story live on cnbc.com at 3:30 PM ET.

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