Fewer jobs, lower salaries, but big bonuses for GS superstars

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Lest it be thought we're coming over scrooge-ish, let us make it clear - Goldman has paid very well, but vultures are circling all the same.

The true enormity of the average Goldman Sachs payout won't be revealed until the firm unearths its 4Q results on Tuesday. But crystalline tit-bits are emerging about its stars.

Firstly, chief exec Lloyd Blankfein was handsomely rewarded for saving the firm from the ignominious fate of Merrill Lynch. Last year, Blankfein received around $54m. This year he'll receive $70m.

Secondly, three of Goldman's Pine Street bankers (in New York) are now a lot richer than the rest. The Wall Street Journal says two out of 16 members of the structured products trading group - Michael Swenson and Josh Birnbaum - were responsible for the sub-prime hedging which enabled the group to make $4bn while other banks lost out.

Together with their boss, Dan Sparks, the Journal says Swenson and Birnbaum are likely to have received payouts ranging from $5m to $15m.

Over in Canary Wharf, Lehman's bankers aren't doing too badly either. Unlike Goldman, Lehman has announced its 4Q results, and they reveal that the standard Lehman bro saw his payout rise 10% to $332,470.

Naturally, this doesn't necessarily mean that good cheer will permeate every crevice. Financial News reports that bankers in Merrill's credit business are being told to expect a 65% reduction in their bonuses, with 75% of them paid in shares. Lehman's mortgage bankers are unlikely to be feeling particularly festive - thousands have been laid off since the summer, making this the first year since 2002 that the bank has ended the year with fewer staff than it began with.

The latest monthly report from recruitment firm Morgan McKinley also highlights the inadvisability of complacency. It found job vacancies were down 9.8% in November compared to October, and average City salaries fell 5% month on month to 47.7k.

Morgan McKinley points out that the number of new jobs always falls at this time of year, but chief exec Rob Thesiger says the future remains opaque: "There are too many conflicting views in the market currently to make any firm predictions for the coming year and we won't be able to judge the full impact of the past few months until the bonus season is over."

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