Average Wall Street bonus a record $257,500 in 2021: Comptroller report

NEW YORK (WABC) -- The average bonus paid to employees in New York City's securities industry for 2021 grew to $257,500, a 20% jump over the previous year's record high, according to annual estimates released Wednesday by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

The estimated bonuses paid out on Wall Street are higher than the city's most recent 15.7% growth projection and should help the city exceed its expected revenue from income taxes, the report said.

"Wall Street's soaring profits continued to beat expectations in 2021 and drove record bonuses," DiNapoli said. "But recent events are likely to drive near-term profitability and bonuses lower. Markets are turbulent as other sectors' recovery remains sluggish and uneven, and Russia wages an inexcusable war on Ukraine's freedom. In New York, we won't get back to our pre-COVID economic strength until more New Yorkers and more sectors -- retail, tourism, construction, the arts and others -- enjoy similar success."

While the average bonus rose 20%, the total 2021 bonus pool for New York City securities industry workers increased by 21% to $45 billion during the traditional December through March bonus season, up from $37.1 billion in 2020.

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The 2020 bonus pool itself reflected 25% growth over the previous year, an increase that was historically unique in the wake of a pandemic-induced recession.

The securities industry continues to make up one-fifth of private sector wages in New York City, despite comprising only 5% of private sector employment.

DiNapoli estimates that one in nine jobs in the city are either directly or indirectly associated with the securities industry.

As a major source of revenue, DiNapoli estimates that the securities industry accounted for 18% ($14.9 billion) of state tax collections in state fiscal year (SFY) 2021 and 7% ($4.7 billion) of city tax collections in city fiscal year (CFY) 2021.

Pretax profits through the first three quarters of 2021 for the broker/dealer operations of New York Stock Exchange member firms, the traditional measure of securities industry profits, increased by 19.6% to $44.9 billion.

While fourth quarter results have not yet been released, they are expected to show continued profitability, which would represent the sixth consecutive year of growth in profits since 2015.

The analysis suggests profits are likely to at least reach the second-highest level on record after 2009 (which saw $61.4 billion). In 2021, the increase in profits were driven by low interest rates and a record IPO market, fueling lower interest expenses and record fees (underwriting, account supervision and investment advisory).

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In 2021, employment the city's securities industry was 180,000, 5% smaller than 2007 and 10% below its peak in 2000, and largely unchanged from the year before. While New York remains the center of the nation's securities industry, the total share of jobs has declined from 33% in 1990 to 18% in 2021.

DiNapoli's office releases an annual estimate of bonuses paid during the traditional December through March bonus season to securities industry employees who work in New York City. Bonuses paid by firms to their employees located outside of New York City, whether in domestic or international locations, are not included.

The comptroller's 2021 estimate is based on personal income tax withholding trends and includes cash bonuses paid for work performed in 2021 and bonuses deferred from prior years that have been cashed in. The estimate does not include stock options or other forms of deferred compensation for which taxes have not been withheld.

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