Bank earnings: Wall Street is running out of jobs to cut

A pedestrian walks past the Wall Street subway station near New York Stock Exchange.

Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A pedestrian walks past the Wall Street subway station near New York Stock Exchange.

Wall Street’s top bankers are getting their pay slashed. But at least they’re keeping their jobs.

Investment banks cut pay to begin the year, when a disastrous first quarter hampered earnings. But now, even as markets and bank performance rebounds — Morgan Stanley on Wednesday morning became the latest major Wall Street firm to top analysts’ estimates —they’re still slashing compensation.

It’s a sign that the banking and trading businesses on which Wall Street’s leading banks rely for billions of dollars in revenue are hitting peak efficiency. Having already pared down headcount to get profitable last quarter, it looks like big banks are running out of jobs to cut.

Investment banking firm Morgan Stanley revealed in its earnings Wednesday that it has cut compensation 9 percent, from $4.4 billion to $4 billion, on lower revenue. But total staff only fell by only 2 percent, to 54,529.

When Goldman Sachs reported earnings Tuesday, it had a similar tale to tell. The bank cut compensation 13 percent year-over-year, but cut only 100 total workers over the same time period (a change of less than one percent).

JPMorgan Chase has seen headcount rise slightly overall year-over-year, and the bank just unveiled an initiative to give thousands of low-ranking staffers a pay hike. However, over the same time frame, JPMorgan saw corporate and investment bank headcount fall by 1 percent. Commercial banks have far bigger teams dedicated to retail transactions and mortgages than the investment banks do.

Experts went into the year predicting cuts to jobs and pay for traders and bankers. Investment banks have been hit hard this year, from a combination of the Brexit forcing Wall Street to consider relocating staffers, to boutique banks elbowing institutional behemoths aside to claim big M&A mandates, to regulators snuffing out big deals that would have made for multi-million dollar paydays.

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