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Wall Street bonuses fall by the most since 2008 as policy makers mull economic impact

Wall Street bonuses fell 26% in 2022, the largest drop since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, as New York state and city officials dial back their expectations for the economic impact of the securities industry.

While many people bemoan the salaries commanded by the Big Apple’s white-shoe bankers, the financial sector provides an economic boost to city and state budgets, helping to find public services that touch the lives of residents.

Now, with the banking sector absorbing the impact of the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank in recent weeks and of a lack of investment bank deal-making, 2023 isn’t looking particularly strong. The current malaise may signal what’s in store for bonuses and employment in the coming year.

The average Wall Street banker’s bonus dropped by $63,700 in 2022, to $176,700, the New York State Comptroller’s Office reported Thursday. That figure does not include regular salary.


Terrence Horan/MarketWatch

Even with the cut, the bonus alone eclipses average U.S. wages. Full-time employees in management, professional and related occupations have the highest median weekly earnings reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the median income for this group across the U.S. was $1,729 a week or $89,908 a year in the fourth quarter of 2022 for men, and $1,316 per week or $68,432 per year for women.

Wall Street banker bonuses jumped by 28% in 2020 and grew by another 12% in 2021, only to fall 26% in 2022. That is the largest drop since the 43% fall in 2008, the year Lehman Brothers collapsed and triggered a global financial crisis.

At the same time, employment in the securities industry climbed to 190,800 by the end of 2022, the highest level in at least 20 years and surpassing the previous 20-year high of 188,900 in 2007.

Collectively, Wall Street firms generated $25.8 billion in profits in 2022, less than half the $58.4 billion produced in 2021 as the impact of inflation, the war in Ukraine and supply constraints bit into deal-making.

The securities industry accounted for about $22.9 billion in state tax revenue, or 22% of the state’s tax collections in fiscal 2021-22, and $5.4 billion in city tax revenue, or 8% of total tax collections over the same period.

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli estimated a drop of $457 million in 2022 tax income for the state and of $208 million for New York City, when measured against the lucrative year of 2021.

With recession in the headlines and markets selling off in 2022, however, policy makers have already adjusted their expectations for tax income.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed budget assumes that bonuses in the broader finance and insurance sector will drop by 25.2% in 2022-23, while the city’s 2023 financial plan assumes a decrease of 35.6% for the securities industry.

“While lower bonuses affect income tax revenues for the state and city, our economic recovery does not depend solely on Wall Street,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “Employment in leisure and hospitality, retail, restaurants and construction must continue to improve for the city and state to fully recover.”

The fate of Wall Street’s bonuses in 2023 remains tied up in what markets and interest rates do for the balance of the year. Based on the storm clouds over the banking sector now, it’s possible bonuses could fall again.

In one positive sign, the equities market has managed to post gains so far in 2023 after bruising losses in 2022. At last check, the S&P 500
SPX,
+0.57%

is up 5.6% in 2023, while the Nasdaq
COMP,
+0.73%

has risen 14.9%. The Financial Select Sector SPDR exchange-traded fund
XLF,
-0.22%

is down 6.6% so far in 2023.

After Wall Street bonuses fell 43% in 2008, they rebounded by 39% in 2009. Such a rapid recovery may not be in the cards for the coming year, however.

Member firms at the New York Stock Exchange generated profits of $13.5 billion in the first half of 2022, down by more than half from year-ago levels, according to an October report on the securities industry in New York by the comptroller’s office.

Revenue on trading, underwriting and securities offerings dropped about 48% over the same time period, while global debt offerings dropped by 17%.

At the same time, interest-rate expenses tripled as the U.S. Federal Reserve boosted interest rates.

“Despite this uncertainty, the city’s latest forecast predicts annual profits to average $21 billion over the next five years, comparable to the 10-year pre-pandemic average of $20.3 billion,” the study said.

The bonus pool of $33.7 billion in 2022 fell 21% from 2021’s record of $42.7 billion, the largest drop since the Great Recession.

Also read: Jobs added at Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Citi and JPMorgan but cut at Wells Fargo and Goldman

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