U.S. financial sector layoffs rise, more cuts ahead

Retail banking suffering the most so far, commercial banks next
By Lauren Tara LaCapra
|hrreporter.com|Last Updated: 06/22/2011

(Reuters) — United States financial firms have been cutting staff dramatically this year, with more layoffs expected to come from Wall Street, according to a report on Tuesday.

Unlike the widespread layoffs stemming from the financial crisis of 2008 that was followed by hiring when markets recovered, the 2011 reductions appear to be more permanent.

Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an employment consulting firm, said the financial sector has outlined 21 per cent more job cuts so far this year than it did in 2010. Banks, insurance firms and brokers have outlined plans to eliminate 11,413 positions through May, according to publicly available information cited by Challenger, compared with 9,431 during the same period one year ago.

Wall Street has long been characterized by fickle hiring patterns, but John Challenger, head of the consulting group, said new cuts reflect fundamental changes in the business structure and returns of financial firms.

"They will not be as profitable in the future as they were in the past," he said. "That means they're just not going to be able to afford the workforce levels that they had when they were more profitable."

Most cuts to date have occurred in retail banking operations, reflecting subdued economic activity and loan growth. Mergers have also led to head count reductions as smaller regional banks combine forces.

However, Challenger expects layoffs at large investment and commercial banks to accelerate through the rest of 2011.

Regulatory restrictions and declines in trading volume have challenged the business models and profitability of large investment banks such as Goldman Sachs Group and Morgan Stanley.

Goldman reported an annualized return on shareholders equity of 15 per cent during the first quarter, adjusted for special items, compared with more than 30 per cent before the crisis erupted. Morgan Stanley, which now has a 20 per cent return-on-equity (ROE) target, delivered an annualized ROE of 6.2 per cent in the first quarter.

Wall Street stocks have fallen along with profits in recent months. Goldman shares are down 19 per cent so far this year, and Morgan Stanley's are off 17 per cent. The KBW Bank Index of large-cap financials is down a more moderate 8.8 per cent.

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