Pay on Wall Street is on pace to break a record high for a second consecutive year, according to a study conducted by The Wall Street Journal.
About three dozen of the top publicly held securities and investment-services firms—which include banks, investment banks, hedge funds, money-management firms and securities exchanges—are set to pay $144 billion in compensation and benefits this year, a 4 percent increase from the $139 billion paid out in 2009, according to the survey. Compensation was expected to rise at 26 of the 35 firms.
The data showed that revenue was expected to rise at 29 of the 35 firms surveyed, but at a slower pace than pay. Wall Street revenue is expected to rise 3 percent, to $448 billion from $433 billion, despite a slowdown in some high-profile activities like stock and bond trading.
Overall, Wall Street is expected to pay 32.1 percent of its revenue to employees, the same as last year, but below the 36 percent in 2007. Profits, which were depressed by losses in the past two years, have bounced back from the 2008 crisis. But the estimated 2010 profit of $61.3 billion for the firms surveyed still falls about 20 percent short from the record $82 billion in 2006. Over that same period, compensation across the firms in the survey increased 23 percent.
"Until focus of these institutions changes from revenue generation to long-term shareholder value, we will see these outrageous pay packages and compensation levels," said Charles Elson, director of the Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance.
Firms surveyed said it is too early to comment on 2010 compensation levels. Many firms say that if they don't adequately compensate employees, they risk losing top talent.
The pay numbers show that firms, benefiting from low interest rates and strong international markets, continue to base their pay on economic and market conditions rather than the level of pressure coming from regulators in Washington and overseas.