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VIEWPOINTS : Crocodile Tears : Times Are Not All That Hard on Wall Street

December 27, 1987|JAMES SRODES | JAMES SRODES is a Washington-based financial writer

It may not be as grim a Christmas for Wall Street's yuppie brokers as some people are making out.

The numbers being tossed about are frightening on their face as thousands of job cuts are announced by big-name financial houses. The most recent were announced just last week, when Manufacturers Hanover said it would dismiss as many as 2,500 people, or 8.5% of its work force, as part of a continuing retrenchment.

But times are hardly desperate on Wall Street, the Oct. 19 crash and future uncertainties notwithstanding. Indeed, one does not have to go back to the 1929 crash to find periods when the big brokerage and banking houses have sacked greater numbers and greater percentages of their work forces. This time, the worst that will happen to most Wall Streeters is that they will have to sell off the No. 2 Volvo or BMW to pay for the family's annual Christmas trek to some Caribbean resort.

As recently as 1973, just before the 1974-75 market shakeout, Wall Street employment totals hit a record 153,900. By the end of the shakeout, Wall Street had jobs for 139,000, a shrinkage of 14,900 people or 9.7% of the jobs in the financial district. Ever since the bull market took off on its rampage five years ago, Wall Street employment figures have kept pace with the Dow Jones industrial average--going to an unprecedented 451,000 as of the end of last August from 267,000 in 1981.

What that means is that if the crash of 1987 is to do as much damage to Wall Streeters as the contraction of a dozen years ago, nearly 45,000 people will have to lose their jobs. While no one would like to see even 15,000 people let go, that would mean an retrenchment of only 3% of the work force.

Moreover, Wall Street's big-name firms may not have been hit in the pocketbook as badly as the headlines first reported. True enough, Bear Stearns declared a $96-million loss for the month of October; L. F. Rothschild & Co. lost $44 million; First Boston reportedly lost $60 million, and Goldman Sachs is said to have lost $80 million.

But consider again the year of 1973, which started out as a good year. The Securities Industry Assn. says its member firms lost $84 million as the market slid into the bear market of the next 18 months. By contrast, for the first nine months of 1987, the securities industry reported net income before taxes of $3.3 billion. Most analysts say the big brokers and underwriters will have a full year net of nearly $4 billion even after deducting their crash losses.

What it adds up to is the thought that perhaps Wall Street's yuppies should stop whining and start counting their blessings--those who have jobs, that is.

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