Layoffs Lurk on Wall Street as Macroeconomic Outlook Remains Murky
Top U.S. banks could cut jobs further to keep their expenses in check, especially if lingering economic weakness derails a fledgling recovery in investment banking, according to comments made at their recent earnings.
The cautious remarks came even as all six big U.S. banks earned more in the third quarter than analysts had expected, suggesting that they are not totally out of the woods.
An economic environment made murky by the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes and geopolitical tensions has only increased risks further, some of the lenders said after results.
JPMorgan, the biggest U.S. bank that has so far managed to avoid mass layoffs, could adjust its headcount depending on the investment banking environment, its CFO Jeremy Barnum said on Friday.
“We regularly review our business needs and adjust our staffing accordingly – creating new roles where we see the need or reducing positions when appropriate,” a spokesperson said on Wednesday, adding that the bank currently has more than 10,000 open positions.
PNC Financial also said the same day it is cutting about 4% of its workforce. Wells Fargo, which has reduced headcount for every quarter since the third quarter of 2020, still sees more opportunities for layoffs, its CEO Charlie Scharf said last Friday.
Citigroup said on Friday it will eliminate jobs from the two upper layers of management as part of its reorganization.
Bank of America, which has cut over 4,300 jobs since the end of the first quarter, said this week it expects headcount to be flat from third quarter levels.
Investment banking powerhouse Morgan Stanley also disclosed a near 2% drop in its total headcount on Wednesday, compared to the prior quarter. The bank did not elaborate on the reduction in its post-earnings call with analysts.
Lenders, which typically thrive in times of stable economic growth, are also grappling with the possibility of a recession that might lead to troubled customers finding themselves burdened under debt and pressure loan growth.
The harsh operating environment has also weighed on stock prices and hurt valuations. The S&P 500 Banks Index which tracks a basket of large-cap bank stocks has underperformed the benchmark S&P 500 index year-to-date.
In the third quarter, expenses at JPMorgan and BofA were up roughly 13% and 3% respectively, while Citi, the third largest U.S. bank, reported a 6% rise from a year earlier, earnings statements from the lenders showed. In contrast, Wells Fargo posted a 8% decline in non-interest expense.
At the investment banks Goldman and Morgan Stanley expenses rose 18% and 5% in the quarter, compared to a year earlier.
Citi, BofA, Morgan Stanley and PNC declined to comment. A spokesperson for Wells Fargo did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment.
Even those dealmakers who end up keeping their jobs could see less lucrative pay. A report published by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli last week estimated that Wall Street bonuses could fall 16% this year, as interest rates possibly staying higher for longer threatens the performance of financial companies.
Investment banking giant Goldman Sachs is in a position to “make more selective investments” in headcount, its CFO Denis Coleman said.
“We did a headcount reduction earlier in this year. That’s not our current expectation to repeat that,” Coleman said.
The bank in January dismissed 3,200 employees, its biggest round of layoffs since the 2008 financial crisis.
However, the bank has resumed an annual performance review, which could lead to some cuts, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters last month.