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BonusDumper: Merrill Lynch Has Less Money For More People

One of the things that Merrill Lynch did to pare its losses in it’s disasterous third-quarter is to dramatically slash compensation costs. Merrill Lynch recorded just under $2 billion on compensation and benefits costs during the third quarter, about half of what of it said it spent during the same period a year ago and less than half of the $4.76 billion it recorded for second quarter of 2007. At the same time, the bank’s employment rolls have grown to 64,200, an additional 8,900 more than a year ago.
Now some of this might be simply accounting hocus-pocus, attempting to reduce costs so that their no-good, very bad fiscal quarter doesn’t look quite so bad. Indeed, Merrill admits as much when it says it may have to accrue compensation costs at higher levels in the fourth quarter. To the extent that this is true, they’re just using phony numbers, which is hardly inspiring in a bank that seems to not to have been too good about estimating losses.
But it’s a grim sign for investment bankers awaiting year-end bonuses. Indeed, it seems that Merrill bankers may lose out in the bonus race this year to colleagues at competing firms. Goldman, for instance, actually increased the amount it recorded for bonus and salary compensation this year.
Even the re-assuring noises the bank is making are, well, less than re-assuring.
“Merrill Lynch remains focused on paying its best performing employees competitively,' the company said in a statement. But apparently it believes it doesn’t have very many of these “best performing employees” this year.

We're not sure if this will make our lads and lasses at Merrill feel better or worse. But here's news that white Merrill's compensation is shrinking, it's not shrinking as fast as earnings. That means the stampeding horde may get a larger portion of the smaller pie. But, of course, since the pie is smaller, the slice will still be smaller than last year.
Merrill Lynch cuts compensation in half [Thomson Financial via CNNMoney]