Credit strategists bask in the limelight

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Credit strategists have been getting a lot of airtime recently, but their moment of glory isn't matched by glistening job prospects.

"Just about anything in the credit world is doom and gloom right now," says one headhunter. "Most of the jobs are on the interest rate side."

You wouldn't think it, given credit strategists' suddenly high profile. Want to know more about US sub-prime fallout? Ask a credit strategist. What's the chance of collateralised debt obligation (CDO) illiquidity precipitating a financial crisis? Credit strategists have all the answers.

As a result, the likes of Edward Marrinan at JPMorgan, Albert Edwards at Dresdner Kleinwort and Jochen Felsenheimer at Unicredit have been all over the press in the past few weeks. Headhunters say they're paid well for their services: "A vice president at a top-tier house can expect around 350k in total compensation," says Michael Stubbs-Egginton, managing director at search firm Credent Partners.

The best-paid strategists typically focus on structured credit, advising salespeople and hedge funds when to put their money into and out of areas such as CDOs.

Given the current state of the market, salespeople might not be selling many CDOs for the foreseeable future, but Stubbs-Egginton contends that demand for strategists will hold up - albeit at a low level: "These are small teams and I don't see any massive movement in the market, but there will be continuing recruitment - there are a lot of fundamental credit challenges out there right now."

Strategists typically come from ratings agencies or credit-focused investment houses, says Simon Clarke at search firm Watmough Mallett. "There's a shortage of people who haven't recently moved, particularly in the cash CDO market," he says.

From credit strategising, Stubbs-Egginton says it can be possible to move into an even more lucrative role as a proprietary trader. However, such opportunities may be hard to come by until the current squeeze passes.

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