In the libel suit he brought in 1878 against John Ruskin, the painter James McNeill Whistler was asked under cross-examination how he justified charging 200 guineas for a painting of a London firework display that took him two days to finish. "I ask it for the knowledge of a lifetime," Whistler said. Investment bankers explain their bonuses in the same manner, although the rewards for mergers and acquisitions advisers are rather greater than for most painters. Goldman Sachs will be paid $58m by 21st Century Fox for its advice on Fox’s planned $71bn asset sale to Walt Disney (and the bank stands to gain another $47m for financing the remainder of Fox). They are remarkable paydays — today’s deal-making boom is the most rewarding time in history to be a global mergers and acquisitions banker. It is especially lucrative for those in the top league of advisers who run many auctions. An individual with the ability to shepherd nervous boards of directors past the pitfalls and a reputation ...

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