As the markets waited for the Federal Reserve to outline its latest thinking on the economy, Wall Street professionals digested news that financial firms were on track to pay employees $144 billion this year, according to the Tuesday edition of The Wall Street Journal.

This means the Street is breaking a pay record for the second year in a row, despite continued turmoil in the economy and impending regulatory change. Last year’s pay total was $139 billion, meaning pay will jump 4% this year – ahead of expected revenue gains on Wall Street of 3%, the newspaper says.

Pay is expected to rise at 26 out of the nation’s top 35 publicly held securities and investment-services firms, according to the WSJ.

Also, the paper says, Wall Street should devote 32% of revenues to employee compensation. This is the same as last year, but below the 2007’s 36%.

“In asset management, the firms now have fewer mouths to feed,” said Mark Elzweig, an executive search-consultant in New York, in a phone interview. “If you have weathered successive rounds of layoffs, your compensation should be going up a bit. That’s the silver lining.”

On Monday, eFinancialCareers reported that half of financial-services professionals surveyed in September expected a higher bonus this year, because business fared better than in 2009.

Elzweig points out that the exact level of bonuses for 2010 won’t be clear until January and February of 2011. “There’s still an unknown about what bonuses will be this year,” he explained.

However, the recent market gains should be good to compensation, at least in asset management.

“Firms are keeping less people. This means as asset levels rise and fees go up, more compensation should be passed along in some ways,” said Elzweig. “In other words, more revenue at these firms with fewer staff should give them more latitude to pay bonuses.”