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Wall Street Expects Bigger Bonuses, but May Not Get Them

Revenue is down on Wall Street but expectations for bonuses are up — at least for some workers who have seen their pay shrink since the financial crisis explosion.

New York Stock Exchange
Oliver Quillia for CNBC.com
New York Stock Exchange

A survey from eFinancial Careers shows 48 percent of workers on the Street are looking for higher bonuses than 2011. Expectations are high even as investment banking revenue is down 11 percent for the same period last year while the securities industry overall saw revenue fall 7 percent in the first half.

At the same time, some of the larger firms have been doing better as the headwinds from the European debt crisissubside and hopes grow that the industry will close the year out strongly.

"What part of Wall Street you're on matters," said Constance Melrose, managing director for eFinancial Careers Americas, which released the survey results Tuesday. "It always matters, but in recent years it has mattered more. There's been more of a differentiation around pay for performance."

Of those surveyed, 58 percent said they expect bonuses to grow or at least remain the same over the next three years, an improvement from 54 percent last year.

The amount expecting higher bonuses exceeds the 41 percent from 2011, with 38 percent saying firm or department performance matter most and 41 percent insisting that individual results will help drive the higher pay.

Some may be in for a disappointment.

Compensation at broker-dealer operations fell 5.5 percent for the first half and 2.7 percent at small and large financial firms.

The Street also has seen a slew of bank layoffslately, with more likely to come. Bank of America is in the early stages of layoffs that ultimately will hit 30,000, while Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse also are expected to pare their staffing rolls. (Read More: What the Jobs Report Really Says About the Economy.)

The average salary in 2010 for employees in New York City's securities industry was $361,180, according to the New York Comptroller's Office. Compensation has eroded as banking regulations have clamped down on proprietary trading, which firms do for their own profit.

"There are certain segments of the Street, of financial services, that are more optimistic than others," Melrose said. "One of the trends that we've seen is that there's definitely people attributing personal performance as being the main driver of change."

The most optimism in the survey came from workers at alternative asset and long-only managers, while the most pessimism came at bulge bracket and broker-dealer firms. Some 59 percent said the state of the U.S. economywas their biggest concern regarding pay influences.

Bonuses last year fell by 14 percent to a total of $19.7 billion, or roughly $121,000 per employee. The bonus system has been roundly criticized for encouraging excessive risk-taking.

Most workers expect the increase to be 30 percent or less, with 5 percent anticipating a rise of 71 percent or more, the eFinancial poll showed.

Heightened expectations come as U.S. investment banking revenue has totaled $21.5 billion for the first three quarters, a decline from the $24.2 billion in 2011, according to data research firm Dealogic.

One bright spot is that U.S. activity has surged as a share of global revenue, accounting for 45 percent of the the total — the highest share since 2004. Global investment banking revenue totaled $47.5 billion for the first three quarters, off 14 percent from 2011 but up from the $46.5 billion in 2010.

The third quarter separately also was profitable for the industry, with the $15.5 billion in revenue up 9 percent from the same period a year ago.

That has led some analysts to take up their earnings expectationsfor big banks.

Financial services firm Keefe, Bruyette & Woods recently upped its third-quarter projection for Goldman Sachs from $1.68 earnings per share to $2.15 and moved Citigroup from "market perform" to "outperform" in its ratings system.

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is expected to release a preliminary report on compensation Tuesday afternoon.

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