Wall Street sees big bonuses as jobs in finance sector decline

While the Dow Jones is up to record highs, the financial sector is continuing to shrink

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 February, 2013, 4:29am

Wall Street may seem like its old self again. Financial giants including Goldman Sachs raked in mega profits in 2012; bonuses are expected to fatten more Wall Streeters' pockets than last year; and the Dow Jones Industrial Average has been flirting with an all-time high after topping 14,000 for the first time in half a decade.

But droves of recent lay-offs tell a different story. Indeed, analysts see a Wall Street that has shrunk in the four years since the financial crisis, in part because of new regulations aimed at making the financial sector safer.

Frederick Cannon, a director of research at investment bank Keefe, Bruyette & Woods in New York, said: "We're definitely seeing the shrinkage of the industry."

As Wall Street adjusts, thousands of highly paid employees are being laid off. As of Tuesday, financial firms globally had announced 114,708 lay-offs in the past year, or 1.6 per cent of their combined workforces, according to Bloomberg.

Dutch financial giant ING said on Wednesday that it would cut 2,400 positions in coming years, a day after British investment bank Barclays said it would slash 3,700 more jobs this year.

"There are basically no jobs," said one anonymous equity trader in his 40s at a major financial firm in New York. "If you're fired, it's almost impossible to get rehired on Wall Street."

Some of the trader's colleagues had had their overall pay decline since before the crisis, he said. For some, that has meant life adjustments: sending children to public schools instead of private ones and taking their holidays in New Jersey instead of the Bahamas.

"People are definitely adjusting to the new reality," the trader said.

The city's securities industry has yet to regain 20,200 jobs that it lost since the financial crisis began, and is likely to continue losing jobs this year, according to the most recent figures released in October by New York State's financial regulator, or comptroller.

The New York comptroller has said it appeared Wall Street was on track to give bigger bonuses than last year. The comptroller's office plans to release a report this month.

Profits have been harder to find on Wall Street since the crisis. Regulatory requirements to increase capital, which in turn limit how much big banks can lend, have been making things tougher, analysts say.

New regulations have increased compliance costs and largely forced companies to get out of the highly profitable business of investing with their own funds. Low interest rates have also made increasing revenue difficult.

Erik Oja, a banking analyst at S&P Capital IQ, said: "The only way to generate profits now is to take a good look at expenses."