Some traders at the largest Wall Street banks are about to get big, fat zeroes for bonuses while they watch markets thrive.
Trading revenue was down significantly across the industry during the fourth quarter, wrapping up a year in which clients around the globe sat idle as market volatility hovered near historic lows.
The big five Wall Street banks - JPMorgan Chase & Co, Citigroup, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs Group and Morgan Stanley - reported an average revenue decline of 32pc for the fourth quarter, and 12pc for the year.
Even though stock markets hit new highs and bond markets moved little, executives said it was hard to generate income from inactive customers.
As a result, bonuses could be 10-20pc lower than the prior year, and traders who sit on desks that posted losses could get nothing at all, consultants and recruiters said in interviews.
"Getting zero bonuses was unheard of a couple years ago, but it happens today," said Alan Johnson, head of compensation consulting firm Johnson Associates.
"I expect that there are people who will get no bonus" this season, he added.
Traders have been feeling the crunch for several years, as trading revenue has been on a near-steady march downward and banks have embarked on aggressive cost-cutting campaigns.
It has also become harder for traders to leave banks for attractive opportunities on the buy side because active managers have been facing their own difficulties with performance and fund-raising.