NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The upcoming earnings of Bank of America ( BAC), Goldman Sachs ( GS) and Citigroup ( C) will undoubtedly throw the spotlight of public scrutiny on executive pay. Investors who scoop up shares of these companies should do so for the right reasons, keeping in mind the difference between "high" and "undeserved" pay. On Saturday I discussed the purchase of Citigroup's money-maker Philbro LLC by Occidental ( OXY). This transaction is significant because the move skirts the issue of the $100 million pay package of Andy Hall, the head of the Philbro group. I expect the recoveries of BofA, Citigroup and Goldman to continue to be valuable to investors. This Big Three has the opportunity to emerge from the financial crisis as profitable companies and franchises. The financial chaos eliminated much of the competition, and areas like Goldman's trading operations have flourished. Over the next five years, this big three could offer a lot in the way of returns for investors. The issue of Hall's compensation and Ken Lewis' massive retirement package could be hot button topics as we move further along into earnings this week. While I do think that the hundreds of millions being dished out to the AIG ( AIG) and BofA executives deserve the scrutiny of compensation czar Ken Feinberg, I think that investors should consider the distinction between "high pay" versus "undeserved pay." Feinberg should be given a fair chance to represent the taxpayers again and determine what is sane when it comes to BofA and AIG.
I have noted before that Hall's exceptional pay package was a direct result of exceptional results. Hall's case is an example of "high pay" derived from huge profits. Hall's Phibro group averaged $371 million in pretax earnings in the five years leading up to 2008. When partners at the big financial firms oversee growth in profits, "high pay" can be justifiable. Someone like Ken Lewis on the other hand, may fall into the category of "undeserved pay." Whatever debate transpires over executive pay this week, investors should keep their eye on the prize. Scrutiny of pay packages is important, but so are results and earnings potential. CEOs should be rewarded based on their benefit to shareholders, which in upcoming months, could be "high". This isn't Feinberg's first time assessing sensitive payouts. He did a good job allocating funds to 9/11 victims families. Terms like "deserve" and "need" have been redefined by the financial collapse, and balancing capitalism with public opinion will be no small task. The trick will be keeping the top talent at embattled institutions so that they continue to recover. Investors looking to make a play on earnings from the Big Three through an ETF should consider iShares Dow Jones U.S. Financial Services ( IYG) or the Vanguard Financials ETF ( VFH) . While IYG trumps VFH on trading volume, both ETFs have high allocations towards the three banks. If the earnings results this week are positive, these ETFs could have a lot of room to move on the upside.
-- Written by Don Dion in Williamstown, Mass.