Our Take: A Job-Market Status Report

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Caution among employers continues to dominate the financial-sector job outlook within the U.S. Large-scale layoffs are occurring alongside of hiring in selected niches. And recovery isn't likely soon. In a report this week Johnson Associates, a leading Wall Street compensation consultant, pointed out that analysts' 2008 earnings estimates for major banks and publicly traded asset management firms fell steadily through March and April. That indicates expectations for a profit recovery are receding into 2009.

Counting the Bodies

The Wall Street downturn of 2001-2003 claimed 92,400 securities industry jobs nationwide, of which 33,000 occurred during the first nine months, according to U.S. Labor Department data. On March 24 this year - nine months into the current downturn - Bloomberg toted up the job cuts disclosed since July by the biggest U.S. and European banks and securities firms. 34,463. (We should note the numbers most likely aren't comparable, because many corporate announcements don't say how many of the affected jobs are located in the U.S. Still, they're a handy gauge.)

In recent weeks, the toll has grown considerably. Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, UBS and Credit Suisse are slashing a total of 16,100 jobs. Meanwhile, JPMorgan's looming absorption of Bear Stearns is expected to throw some 8,000 former Bear employees, and as many as 4,000 of JPMorgan's own staffers, onto the street.

Among professional specialties, the least promising are still the usual suspects: mortgage origination and structuring (whether residential or commercial), structured credit deal origination, and financing and advising large leveraged buyouts.

The most promising areas are distressed securities trading, hedge funds (support functions in particular), risk management (including internal audit and compliance, as well as market risk), private wealth, and institutional asset management.

Opportunities Overseas

It's hardly a secret that many promising career opportunities are migrating outside the U.S. Employer sentiment is poor in the UK and Japan, but the rest of the Asia-Pacific region remains on a growth path. Vibrant expectations for economic growth, household wealth, deal volume and the rapid emergence of financial markets and products place the Middle East, China and the other Pacific Rim economies at the center of banks and securities firms' expansion plans over the next several years.

Within Asia, demand is hottest for infrastructure finance, asset management, private equity, private banking, risk management, compliance and operations professionals. In the Middle East, expatriates are being sought with skills in hedge funds, mergers and acquisitions, private equity, sovereign wealth funds coverage, and insurance.

But take note: Professionals aiming to parachute into these markets face growing local competition. Last year, Asia surpassed North America for the first time in the number of new CFA Level I candidates, according to CFA Institute figures.

John Benson, the chief executive of eFinancialCareers, recently gave these suggestions to the New York Society of Security Analysts, for those thinking of "going global":

- Seek out work assignments outside your home country.

- Be realistic about compensation. Don't expect a "hardship" premium for working overseas.

- Go abroad to interview, meet people, and apply to a bank's local offices in your target country.

- Use foreign assignments to build an international network. Build contacts within the region you're assigned to, and keep up with them even after returning home. Connections you can call upon in China or other growth markets represent a major career asset.

- Don't forget to continue nurturing the network you left in your home country.

And: If you seek or are offered a job in, say, Dubai, perform due diligence on the company just as you would for any other job. You don't want to move overseas only to find out your employer is poorly positioned, or got a late start in the market and has little chance of catching up to nimbler, better-financed or better-connected rivals.

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