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The Shrinking Bond Market

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Trading volumes for most U.S. bonds declined in the first five months of 2011 from the same period a year earlier, according to SIFMA data. For Wall Street traders, that will likely mean layoffs.

The average daily trading volume in GSE mortgage-backed securities has been around 20 percent lower. Municipal bond trading also has declined by a similar percentage. The average daily volume in corporate debt trading has been lower every month except for February.

The only bright spot for trading volume has been U.S. Treasurys, which have been trading at much higher levels as investors position themselves for the end of the Federal Reserve's quantitative easing.

Fixed-income trading revenues for all major Wall Street firms declined in the first quarter of this year—by double digits at some firms. Given the thin volumes for the second quarter, it’s likely revenues will keep declining.

This will likely lead to more layoffs for fixed-income desks. Goldman Sachs Chief Financial Officer Gary Viniar said last month that if volumes remain depressed, the bank would likely have to reduce head count in its fixed-income division. Other banks—including JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley —are also contemplating layoffs, according to people familiar with the matter.

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