Report: Wall Street's 2020 Bonuses Rose Amid Volatility

Report: Wall Street's 2020 Bonuses Rose Amid Volatility

ALBANY—The average bonus paid to employees in New York City’s securities industry grew by 10% in 2020 to $184,000, in line with the city’s most recent 9.9% projection, likely allowing the city to meet or exceed its income tax revenue projections in FY2021, according to annual estimates released today by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

“Wall Street’s near-record year shattered all expectations. The early forecast of a disastrous year for financial markets was sharply reversed by a boom in underwriting activity, historically low interest rates, and surges in trading spurred by volatile markets,” DiNapoli said. “Income tax revenue from New York City’s securities industry will help shore up state and city budgets that are strained by steep declines in other industries, but it comes with a caution. New York benefits when Wall Street succeeds, but our economy won’t fully recover until other sectors can reopen and all New Yorkers have a chance to share in economic success.”

DiNapoli estimates the 2020 bonus pool for New York City securities industry workers increased by 6.8% to $31.7 billion during the traditional December-March bonus season, up from $29.7 billion in 2019. The growth of the bonus pool is unique after a recessionary event. Bonuses fell by 33% in 2001 after 9/11 and by 47% in 2008 after the Great Recession. Bonuses have fallen four times since 2008, with an average decline of 12%.

The securities industry accounts for one-fifth of private sector wages in New York City, even though it is less than 5% of private sector employment. DiNapoli estimates that nearly one in 10 jobs in the city are either directly or indirectly associated with the securities industry.

As a major source of revenue, DiNapoli estimates that the securities industry accounted for 18% ($15.1 billion) of state tax collections in state fiscal year (SFY) 2020 and 6% ($3.9 billion) of city tax collections in city fiscal year (CFY) 2020.

Pretax profits in 2020 for the broker/dealer operations of New York Stock Exchange member firms (the traditional measure of securities industry profits) increased by 81% to $50.9 billion. It was the fifth consecutive year of growth in profits, which are up 256% since 2015. Profitability in 2020 was the second highest on record, trailing $61.4 billion recorded in 2009.

Recessions and economic shocks have historically damaged industry profitability. After 9/11, profits fell by 50% in 2001 and after the Great Recession profits fluctuated wildly.

In 2020, profits rose because of an increase in trading and underwriting activity, along with lower interest rates. Market conditions experienced significant upheaval beginning in late February due to the pandemic and related public health and fiscal responses, resulting in a flurry of trading activity, creating higher commissions and trading income. Low interest rates also encouraged borrowing, generating fees and interest expense savings.

In 2020, employment in New York City’s securities industry was 179,900, 5% smaller than 2007 and 11% below its peak in 2000. While New York remains the center of the nation’s securities industry, the total share of jobs has declined from 33% in 1990 to 19% in 2020. During the pandemic, securities firms swiftly enabled employees to work remotely and some opened trading operations in other parts of the country. It remains to be seen if these relocations are temporary. The industry lost 3,600 jobs, 1.9% of employment, in 2020.

The State Comptroller also reported:

• The governor’s proposed budget had assumed statewide bonuses for the broader finance and insurance sector would decrease by 15.5% in SFY 2021 (ending March 31). Because the city’s securities industry comprises three-quarters of the statewide bonus pool, state tax collections from bonuses will likely be higher than anticipated for the current fiscal year.

• New York City’s budget for CFY 2020 assumes that the bonus pool for securities industry employees will increase by 6.8% in 2020, a substantial revision from initial projections of a 34% decline. Based on DiNapoli’s estimate, tax revenue from the securities industry bonuses should continue to support income tax revenues coming in at, or better than, expectations. The city’s financial plan for next year assumes securities industry bonuses will increase by a modest 5.4% in 2021.

• The average salary (including bonuses) in the city’s securities industry increased by 2% to $406,854 in 2019 (the latest annual data available), nearly five times higher than the average in the rest of the private sector ($82,938). By contrast, the average wage in the city’s securities industry was about two times the rest of the private sector in 1981.

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