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Finance Industry Bonus Hit in Poll as Revenue Disappoints

Wall Street Faces New U.S. Scrutiny of Derivatives Tactic
Wall Street banks face heightened scrutiny from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission over their latest tactic to escape U.S. trading rules for overseas derivatives. Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

Almost half of all finance professionals expect bonuses to be smaller this year, if they get one at all, according to a Bloomberg Global Poll.

Twenty-seven percent of those surveyed said they foresee this year’s payout dropping compared with 2013, while 18 percent said they don’t expect one, according to the quarterly poll of 562 investors, analysts and traders who are Bloomberg subscribers. Thirty-two percent said they look forward to getting a larger bonus, the July 15-16 poll showed.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc. were among Wall Street firms cutting the amount of money set aside for employees in the first half as revenue from businesses including trading and mortgage lending fell. Still, many of the world’s key stock markets are up for the year and fees from underwriting and merger advice have surged.

“If the profit potential of the institution has been clipped by regulation or the market opportunities are contracting, you can extrapolate that to how much you pay your staff,” Daniel Baker, 50, a poll respondent and London-based analyst for Informa Global Markets, said in a phone interview.

Twenty-three percent of the respondents answered that they weren’t sure about the size of this year’s bonus.

Revenue Impact

While most of the six largest U.S. banks beat analysts’ profit estimates when reporting second-quarter results this month, their combined revenue excluding accounting adjustments slipped almost 2 percent amid the trading and mortgage slumps.

Employees may be expecting bad news because revenue still isn’t returning to higher, pre-crisis levels, according to Alan Johnson, a compensation consultant. The 84 companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Financials Index brought in about $139 billion last year, down from $188 billion in 2007, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“Historically it’s been that if you are producing less, we’ll pay you less,” said Johnson, founder and managing director of New York-based Johnson Associates Inc., who advises Wall Street banks on pay. “Certainly that’s the mantra of today.”

Investment-bank compensation typically includes a salary and a bonus that is awarded at the end of the year. Asset managers collect fees based on the amount of funds they oversee and the success of their investments. With many markets rallying this year, asset managers will probably get pay increases, while fixed-income traders will see declines, Johnson said in a May report.

Blaming Volcker

While most of the respondents weren’t proprietary traders, 39 percent of those surveyed said the implementation of the Volcker Rule was having a mostly negative effect on their business. Named after former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul A. Volcker, the rule restricts the once-lucrative business of speculating for the accounts of the biggest banks. Forty percent said the rule wouldn’t influence their business.

The regulation is combining with low volatility to compress trading volume and limit profit opportunities, according to Jean-David Haddad, a broker at OTCex Group in Paris who also participated in the poll. The migration of traders from banks to hedge funds and other financial-services firms such as interdealer brokers is also changing the industry, he said.

Less Volume

“You have a combination of more people doing the same thing, less volume and lower fees making things extremely difficult for the brokerage industry,” Haddad, 30, said in a phone interview. “If you don’t have people moving positions, then you can’t make money.”

Only 9 percent said they thought the Volcker Rule was having a mostly positive impact on their business. Another 12 percent said they weren’t sure what effect it was having.

A plurality of respondents said their business is steady, with 45 percent saying it’s remaining stable. Twenty-eight percent said they see business picking up, while 25 percent said it’s slowing down. Two percent weren’t sure.

The poll, conducted by Selzer & Co., a Des Moines, Iowa-based firm, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

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