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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 December 2005, 00:18 GMT
Wall Street's bonus bonanza

By Guto Harri
BBC North America business correspondent

Wall Street is expecting record bonuses this year.

Man drinking wine
Much of the bonuses will be spent on fine wines

At least $20bn is due to be handed out this week, taking the annual pay of some individuals above $10m.

Most 30-year-old traders can expect more than $500,000 extra in December's pay packet, according to insiders.

"It's all very hush hush", says Rich Blake, senior editor of Trader Monthly.

"But most guys are going to have the best year ever".

Cutting the cake

Bonuses are an important part of the pay package on Wall Street.

Basic salaries are usually a small part of what a trader or banker will earn.

People are not going around crazily indiscriminately spending money like they did several years back in the nineties, but it's a very helpful infusion into the economy
Marty Shapiro, managing partner of Tribecca Grill

"A lot of your net worth is in your bonus, so people are really counting on them," according to Maggie Craddock who used to run a department managing a large investment portfolio.

Now an executive coach, she advises anxious employees how to argue for the best deal and react to the cheque that they are given.

"This is a highly emotional topic", she says.

"Really there's no formula for this.

"A lot of the way the bonuses are set are somewhat subjective.

"You have individuals who are used to calculating every single deal they do terribly quantitatively, and then its not only what they've produced, when in the year they've produced it, but also issues like personal popularity come into plays.

"Its that vagueness around this that kicks off this emotional element."

What hurts most is when an outstanding trader is part of a team or asset class that has underperformed, so their own reward is undermined by the others.

A disappointing bonus will often prompt a star trader to leave the firm, so managers have to be careful when cutting the Christmas bonus cake.

Economic boost

Even the smallest bonus, of course, can prompt envy or jealousy outside the financial district.

Luxurious apartments in New York
The property market is fuelled by bonus levels

But the extra dollars to get thrown around.

A lot goes on wine - either to improve personal cellars, or to enhance a night out at one of Manhattan's best restaurants.

Marty Shapiro, managing partner of Tribecca Grill, is well placed to take advantage of that with more the 300 types of Chateau Neuf du Pape - which he says is the biggest collection of this prestigious French wine in the world.

"The bonuses obviously impacts the city overall," says Mr Shapiro.

"It's a tremendous influx into the economy. People are not going around crazily indiscriminately spending money like they did several years back in the nineties, but it's a very helpful infusion into the economy."

Lower bills

Estate agents also benefit.

Leigh Williams, a broker with Douglas Elliman, says bonuses have had "a big impact on the market, especially in the last several years".

This year saw a "bit of stalling in the market after various articles about the bubble bursting, but the number of deals and closings in the last two months has been substantially higher than last year" in anticipation of the bonuses.

As for the rest of us in New York, viewing these payouts with intense jealously, the only consolation is that the city authorities will take a large chunk of the bonuses in tax, keeping our bills lower.

Only 5% of the New York City's workforce work in the financial sector, but they generate about 20% of the income.


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