Are Banks Paying Bonuses They Can't Afford?

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Some experts suggest that Gordon Gekko's "greed is good" mantra is alive and well on Wall Street, and that bonuses tell the tale.

Ha. "Wall Street isn't any other industry; it's essentially a compensation machine," argues Marketwatch columnist David Weidner.

Well, maybe. Surely Weidner must have noticed the compensation drawdowns publicized at third-quarter earnings time by powerhouses like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan and Credit Suise.

Goldman announced that its employees stand to take home 30 percent less in annual compensation than they did a year ago, with average accrued pay per head for the first three quarters down to $371,000 from $527,000. Credit Suisse said it, too, would reduce by 20 percent its set aside for investment-bank employees by 20 percent as revenue at the unit declined 27 percent.

For its part, Morgan Stanley cut the investment bank's bonus pool by 8 percent this year.

Morgan said it's not considering moving up bonus payouts - becoming one of the first large firms to dismiss that particular possibility. That fits the expectations of most professionals on the Street: An eFinancialCareers survey found 64 percent expect their bonuses will be paid in 2011.