Traders to trump bankers (again)

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Traders look set to do the best from this year's bonus round. Their pre-eminence may not last, however.

"This year, a managing director in investment banking will earn about US$2m (1.05m), and a senior trader will earn about US$2.75m," predicts Alan Johnson, chief executive of Johnson Associates, a US pay consultancy.

"Traders are still well ahead," he adds. "But bankers will move in front this year or next - their pay is increasing much faster than traders."

According to Johnson, the current fillip in traders' pay is a recurrent phenomenon that he's seen before. "It goes in cycles," he explains. "One minute bankers are on top, the next minute it's traders. In 1998, 1999 and 2000 traders were way ahead - they were making US$1.5m while bankers were on US$1m."

Johnson attributes traders' current success to a long spell of good luck, dating back to 2002.

Against this backdrop, he disregards recent trading losses at the likes of Credit Suisse and UBS as relatively insignificant: "Traders have had a remarkable run, which no one expected. But at some point they won't be as fortunate. That has always been the pattern in the past."

Johnson's predictions for year-on-year increases in the bonus pool

Investment banking: 20%+

Rationale: Strong fourth quarter, positive sentiment, but variations across industries.

Equities (excluding prime brokerage): 15%

Rationale: Headcount additions will dilute the amount individuals receive. Derivatives have driven the business.

Prime brokerage: 15%+

Rationale: Growth tied to hedge funds and transaction lending, moderated by increased competition.

Fixed income: 10% to15%

Rationale: Commodities strong, interest rates weak, prop trading holds the key.

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