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Asian bankers nervous as bonus season nears

Capital markets business is booming; But bankers fear pressure of public opinion

The top earners at Asia’s investment banking franchises are awaiting the opening of the bonus season with more than usual interest and uncertainty. Three key factors contribute to this state of nervous tension. The first is that despite all the bad news at the start of 2009, there has been a spectacular late rally in fee-winning opportunities as the IPO markets reopened in style. A senior capital markets banker in Hong Kong tells Euromoney his team are on course for their second best year ever (behind the bumper 2007) as delayed offerings are rushed to market. The problem for bankers who have been raking in fees for their firms at near-2007 levels is that they don’t know how that translates to personal reward in 2009.

"People are constantly asking me ‘what’s my mark-to-market?’," says a headhunter in Hong Kong who specializes in investment banking hires. "The top earners want to be back at 2007 levels but nobody quite knows where they stand because 2008 was so poor."

The second factor these bankers might be pondering is the extent to which external pressures will affect pay decisions at their firms.

"Certain banks don’t care what people think," says the headhunter, "and will look after their top producers regardless of public opinion.

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