Journal: Wall Street Pay Could Set Records

That didn’t take long.

The Journal reports this morning that Wall Street compensation is on track to possibly outdo 2007 levels. The paper doesn’t explicitly say it, but that would set an all-time record.

Goldman Sachs employees are on pace for a $673,000 payday, according to the WSJ average of analysts’ estimates. Morgan Stanley employees are headed for a much lower—but still nice—$275,000, which wouldn’t be that much more than last year’s and would be well below 2007’s $343,000, which doesn’t fit with the story’s thesis.

But Morgan Stanley did set aside 68 percent of its revenue in the first quarter for compensation—well above the usual 50 percent. The paper doesn’t say why its 2009 increase is so much less than Goldman’s, so I’d assume it’s because their earnings have rebounded less. And there are other things going on in the pay area: Deutsche Bank is offering two-year pay guarantees for new hires, for instance.

As the Journal understates:

…the comeback in compensation so far this year shows how hard it is for Wall Street to break its old habits. Repaying last year’s capital infusions from the government freed Goldman, Morgan Stanley and other big financial firms from curbs on compensation.

Seems like we ought to get the billions back from their backdoor bailout via AIG before Wall Street goes too crazy, but that’s just me.

The paper does note that Wall Street is making some steps toward pay reform:

While Wall Street firms remain loath to cap pay levels, some are changing the mix of salary and bonus, partly in response to the financial crisis and added scrutiny from Washington. Some are boosting salaries and adding more stock, as well as so-called “clawback” provisions aimed at tying employee pay packages more closely to the long-term fortunes of their firms.

Give them a golf clap.


It’s been pointed out to me that The New York Times had pretty much this exact story—more than two months ago. Indeed they did.

Reporter Louise Story, a sharp up-and-comer who once was forced to endure a whole summer sitting across from me at The Wall Street Journal (bonus trivia: Story found me commiserating with Journal colleagues at the paper’s watering hole the night Murdoch locked up the deal for Dow Jones and quoted me moaning about it), was early to latch on to this trend:

Workers at the largest financial institutions are on track to earn as much money this year as they did before the financial crisis began, because of the strong start of the year for bank profits.

She also had numbers for JPMorgan Chase, something the Journal didn’t include:

At other banks, pay scales tilt in favor of particular units. JPMorgan Chase, for example, is setting aside what would total $138,234 on average for workers. But in the bank’s trading and investment banking unit, if revenue stays at first-quarter levels, workers are on track to earn an average of $509,524 over the year. That figure was $345,147 in 2006.

So a retroactive tip of The Audit’s green eyeshade is due Story and the Times for being early on this.

But that doesn’t mean it’s any shame for the Journal to run this story. Far from it. Journalists are too enthralled with the idea that “if it’s been done before we can’t do it.” Bogus. Important stories need to be visited and revisited —the drumbeat thing. I think that’s a critical reason why so much of the press’s good work during the bubble didn’t make much of a difference.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.