Looking Good

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Not anytime soon, industry experts say. All outlooks point to continued economic growth for at least another year, followed by a correspondingly strong job market in the financial world. After that, watch the U.S. deficit, Middle East politics and the real estate industry for warning signs.

"The outlook is pretty rosy," says Rob Wagner, Korn/Ferry senior client partner for global banking and finance in Los Angeles. "The economy is still doing well, stock market confidence is high, financial services and capital markets look good, bond and equity markets are healthy, yields have come up and traders and sales people are well-paid. I don't see this changing in the next year."

Hedge and private equity continue to be popular investment vehicles, and employers in those sectors are "willing pay outsized compensation packages," Wagner says.

Randy Gartz, Robert Half International vice president of permanent placement services, points out the demand created by ever-increasing compliance initiatives also fuels a demand for qualified accounting and finance professionals that outpaces supply.

This shortage has employers returning to pre-9/11 days of accelerated hiring processes, offering premium signing and performance bonuses and jacking up salaries for current staff. "They're making counteroffers to retain top performers," Gartz says.

But...

This positive forecast is not unconditional, however. Wagner worries about cracks in the economy connected to the national deficit, the war in Iraq, and the real estate market's questionable future. "How much can rates be decreased as we're running these ridiculous deficits?" he wonders. "We still have the most attractive currency to overseas investors, but if the deficit is not addressed it will have a poor effect on the market, and that will hit the stock markets. Then it will be harder to make money, and that will have a direct impact on bonuses."

Gartz's long-term view is slightly more optimistic. He notes the strong business environment has been a continued boon for commercial real estate, and compliance initiatives and the talent drought are not going away anytime soon.

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