Workers at Wall Street firms should expect their cash bonuses to fall by 14% this year, after dropping 13% last year, according to an estimate released Wednesday by New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. Still, experts point out, this figure is quite generous given the sharp declines in profitability for the New York investment firms.
“Cash bonuses were down in 2011, reflecting a difficult year on Wall Street,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “Profits were down sharply and securities firms in New York City resumed downsizing in the second half of the year.
The state comptroller estimates that profits for the broker/dealer operations of New York Stock Exchange member firms, were $13.5 billion in 2011, less than half of the $27.6 billion earned in 2010. If the estimates prove correct, this would be the second year in a row that profits dropped by more than half, according to the comptroller.
Despite declining profits, the total cash bonus pool of Wall Street workers was $19.7 billion, topping total profits by some $6 billion. In 2010, the pool for cash bonuses was $22.8 billion, which put it some $5 billion behind the combined profits of Wall Street firms.
“What a joke. Industry profits were down 50%, and bonuses were down just 13%. This is moral hazard being displayed at its finest,” said Chip Roame (left), head of Tiburon Strategic Advisors, in an interview with AdvisorOne.
“Why not shoot for the lights if you are a brokerage firm CEO? If you miss by a lot, as in 2011, you still get 87% of the prior year bonus!” added Roame. “And that followed a huge earnings decline the prior year.”
Average Bonus Levels
The average cash bonus fell 13% to $121,150 per individual in 2011 from $138,940 in 2010. In 2006, the average cash bonus peaked at $191,360.