Wall Street Bonuses Rise


It ain’t 2007 again, but after three years of declines, Wall Street’s bonus pool is up and traders are about to get paid.

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli reported in his most recent report that the bonus pool for Wall Street employees rose 2% to $23.9 billion during the December-to-March bonus season.

Thomas DiNapoli, NYS Comptroller

The average bonus paid to securities industry employees in New York City increased 1% to $138,210 in 2016 as pretax profits for broker/dealer operations increased 21% to $17.3 billion. It is the first increase in profits following three years of consecutive declines. In the report, DiNapoli said that profits were driven by cutting costs and lowering non-compensation expenses, which includes the cost of legal settlements.

“Wall Street profits bounced back strongly in 2016. Lower costs more than made up for the continued decline in revenues,” Mr. DiNapoli said in the news release. “Bonuses were up only slightly in New York City as the industry held the line on compensation. The jump in profitability is good news since the industry generates a significant amount of tax revenue for both the state and city budgets.”

Employment on Wall Street grew 2.2% in 2016 to 177,000 jobs on average, with 3,800 jobs added last year vs. 2,800 in 2015. It is the highest employment on Wall Street since the 2008 financial crisis and the third consecutive year of job growth.

“Despite job gains, the securities industry in New York City is 6 percent smaller than in 2007, while the rest of the private sector has grown by 20 percent,” DiNapoli said. “Nonetheless, the industry remains an important part of the city’s economy. The industry accounts for less than 5 percent of the private sector jobs in the city, but generates more than one-fifth of the private sector wages paid.”

DiNapoli estimates that nearly 1 in 10 jobs in the city are either directly or indirectly associated with the securities industry.

Securities-related activities are a major source of revenue for the state and city, the report added. DiNapoli estimated that the securities industry accounted for 18.5 percent ($13.8 billion) of state tax collections in state fiscal year 2015-2016 and 7 percent ($3.7 billion) of city tax collections in city fiscal year 2016.

New York City’s budget had assumed that profits would reach $18 billion and that the bonus pool for securities industry employees in the city would increase by 2 percent. As a result, tax collections should be close to forecast.

In 2015, the most recent data available, the average salary including bonuses for Wall Street employees was $388,000, compared to $74,000 in the rest of the city’s private sector. Data for 2016 are not yet available.

The rise in bonuses comes after forecasts for falling compensation packages. In its November 2016 annual survey and report, executive recruitment and compensation consultancy Johnson Associates said that Wall Street’s year-end bonus incentives were originally are expected to be modestly lower compared with 2015, marking the second consecutive year of smaller incentive payouts. Equity traders were expected to see their bonus payouts shrink 5% to 15% for the year.

Kevin Kozlowski, Greenwich Associates

Also, brokerage firms have been somewhat public about cutting bonuses and other cash compensation  – Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan and UBS – to name a few. These actions continue to reflect the difficulties in trading equities as evidenced by stagnant commission rates and levels paid to the sell-side by the buy-side. Greenwich Associates estimated that the annual pool of cash equity commissions paid by institutional investors to brokers on U.S. equity trades in 2016 to be $9.65 billion. This amount is down more than 30 percent from its peak in 2009.

According to Johnson and Associates latest compensation report, equity sales and trading professionals were forecast to have dropped in 2016 between 5% to 15% and down -10% to flat for fixed income professionals. The firm said that lower levels of client activity and difficult market environments across most businesses continues and could push sell-side execs to greener institutional pastures.

“Even several years of compensation reductions will not stop the flow of talent from the sell side, which sees the buy side as offering at least equal potential financially, with much better quality of life,” said Greenwich Associates analyst Kevin Kozlowski, who helped co-author the Johnson report.

Bonuses accounted for approximately 50%–55% of cash compensation among senior equity professionals and 40%–50% among traders and analysts.

However, Johnson reported that at least one job title bucked the projected declining trend – equity analyst. Average pay for analysts increased approximately 12.5% last year. “

“This significant rise could reflect the increasing seniority of analysts hired during the industry’s post-crisis recovery, or it could be evidence that bottom-line-conscious firms are focusing on more junior and cost-effective professionals,”Kozlowski said. “Across roles and responsibilities, equity market pay levels continue to top those in fixed income.”





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