Where's the Carnage?

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Are investment banks really wielding the knife in as measured a manner as official data indicates?

We've often discussed the disconnect between numbers stated in Wall Street layoff announcements, and the industry's official headcount totals reported by both individual institutions (via their annual and quarterly reports) and the U.S. Department of Labor.

Compilations based on layoff announcements suggest more than 90,000 bankers have been let go during the past 12 months. That doesn't even include the far larger number of retail mortgage originators who've lost their jobs. Job destruction on that scale approximates what occurred during the industry's previous downturn in 2001-03, and meshes with anecdotal evidence that outside of a few favored specialties, employers are holding back on hiring, while candidates with star track records are plentiful.

On the other hand, both government reports and banks' financial reports show little change in investment bank employment. Credit Suisse, for instance, reported employing 1,200 more people within its investment bank as of June 30, 2008, compared with a year earlier. Deutsche Bank took a €2.3b billion asset write-down in the second quarter, yet headcount in its corporate and investment bank declined by a mere 25 people compared with the first quarter. And of course, Morgan Stanley said last week it may redeploy all of its $1 billion cost savings from past job eliminations, toward hiring new staff. It's already reinvested 40 percent of those savings in new hires.

What do you make of these seemingly conflicting reports? And, is it worthwhile for a candidate to pay attention to company-wide or industry-wide job numbers at all? Or, should candidates plotting their next step focus solely on their immediate environment and career niche?

Post your thoughts below.

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