Wall Street Will Lose in a Jobs Recovery

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NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- With layoff announcements and restructurings underway at most major investment banks in the U.S. and around the world, it's clear that Wall Street may lose out in a jobs recovery in coming quarters.

What isn't so clear is why?

Thursday, The Royal Bank of Scotland said it will cut 3,500 jobs in its investment banking division over the next three years, on top of 2,000 layoffs in the second half of 2011. The bailed out Edinburgh, Scotland based-bank with significant operations in the U.S., will shutter or sell its loss making equities, corporate brokerage, equity capital markets and mergers & acquisition divisions.

We all know that regulatory reform is wreaking havoc on jobs tied to capital intensive trading divisions and extraneous internal private equity and hedge fund businesses at investment banks, while commercial banks adjust headcount to reflect diminished earnings prospects. But Wall Street's job woes may also reflect the fact that credit boom hiring and credit crisis firing peaked later than overall private payrolls.

Wall Street related jobs, what the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls securities, commodity contracts and investments jobs, in addition to fund, trust and other financial vehicle jobs, peaked well after the overall financial services sector and the wider economy. In fact, many Wall Street related jobs peaked in fall of 2008, just as a financial apocalypse took hold. At now-defunct banks and titanic "Too Big to Fail" bailout recipients, someone had to man the deckchairs after all.

While new rules, which eliminate certain practices like proprietary risk taking and that make trading less profitable clearly are a piece of recent bank layoff news, the downsizing of Wall Street may also be a reflection of a delayed post-boom jobs adjustment. If that's the case, watch for Wall Street to miss a jobs recovery, which showed that 200,000 workers were hired in December causing the unemployment rate to fall from 8.5%, an improvement from 2010.

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Among well-known U.S. banks, Citigroup announced an expensive plan to cut 4,500 jobs in coming quarters, or 1.5% of its workforce as part of an up-to 5% expense reduction plan. Also in December, Morgan Stanley announced 580 investment banking layoffs, adding to a downsizing plan targeting 1,600 brokerage and investment banking job cuts by the first quarter of 2012, reflecting nearly 3% of its overall workforce.

Bank of America meanwhile announced an ambitious 30,000 multi-year job cut plan in 2011 and in June Goldman Sachs filed a 230 worker cut plan with the New York Department of Labor to be completed by the end of March.

In November, Bloomberg estimated 200,000 job cuts in the global financial services industry in 2011, an increase from previous years that reflects an escalating debt crisis in Europe, in addition to new regulations.

But the less talked about issue is whether these cuts are simply part of a "Darwinian jobs flush," which occurred in the wider economy, shedding nearly 9 million private sector U.S. jobs from a July 2007 peak to a Feb. 2010 bottom? Employment data signals that this second explanation may be an important piece of the Wall Street jobs narrative.

After a Dec. 2006 peak, financial services jobs only recently bottomed in July 2011, monthly BLS data shows. In that process 744,000 financial jobs were cut, 9% of the overall workforce. Presumably, that 2006 peak signals that the credit-fueled financial services sector was as a leading indicator for the subsequent recession, the worst since the Great Depression. What's less clear is why the bottom came over a year after overall private payrolls?

The answer is that Wall Street-tied securities, investments and funds job cuts actually lagged the financial services sector and overall private payrolls. The data, in addition to recent layoff announcements, begs the question of whether Wall Street job cuts have even bottomed?

Securities, commodity contracts and investment jobs - think brokers, bankers and advisers - peaked in August 2008, a month before the rescue of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, in addition to the collapse of Lehman Brothers. In the recent most recent payrolls data released in January, those jobs neared post crisis lows, even as private payrolls and overall financial jobs added to gains from 2010 lows.

Meanwhile, funds, trusts and other financial vehicle jobs - think the back office workers for investment funds, asset managers and even complicated securitization vehicles - peaked in November 2008 and only recently bottomed in Nov. 2011, if that's actually a bottom.

Reflecting the overall financial sector, safer commercial banking jobs bottomed in Jan. 2010 and have gained significantly since then, while the largest piece of the financial services sector, credit intermediation - think mortgage bankers and credit card servicers - saw a jobs peak in Sept. 2006 and a bottom in Mar. 2011, ahead of Wall Street jobs.

Layoff announcements at investment banks will continue to dominate headlines that reflect the potentially diminishing prospects of a once booming high finance industry as new regulations kick in. A look at jobs data may actually show that the cuts are just part of a post boom adjustment.

Either way you slice it, expect Wall Street to miss out on the growing jobs recovery currently underway.

-- Written by Antoine Gara in New York

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