Brokers Pick Up Slack in Ailing Job Market

Some demand is emerging for professionals who can sell or trade structured products, defying an otherwise bleak employment outlook for 2009.

Continuing a trend that has been in place since mid-2007, the overall job market for securitization specialists is expected to contract in the months ahead. But there is hiring taking place at broker/dealers, both on the part of established players and new shops.

Those firms, which act as middlemen for investors who want to buy or sell various securities, need the extra hands as ongoing market fluctuations prompt clients to move around bonds backed by mortgages and other consumer assets.

Investment firm Aladdin Capital, which is working to revive a dormant broker/dealer arm, got into the hiring act this week by bringing in two seasoned market players: John Carroll and David Attisani. Carroll's former employers include Barclays, where he headed asset-backed securities trading until a year ago. He now oversees securitized products for the Aladdin team. Attisani, who has covered sales of asset- and mortgage-backed bonds as a vice president at Countrywide, is helping to run sales and marketing.

Amherst Securities, Guggenheim Capital, Jefferies & Co., Mesirow Financial and MF Global have also hired structured-product marketing specialists and/or traders in the past few weeks.

Mesirow wants to bring in as many as 10 more residential and commercial mortgage bond traders and marketers by yearend. Recruiters also say bigger broker/dealers, including Morgan Keegan, Sandler O'Neill and Stifel Nicolaus, are on the lookout for potential recruits - often zeroing in on individuals who were cast off amid widespread job cuts at investment banks.

The hiring efforts are being driven, in part, by a recent leveling of the playing field among banks and broker/dealers. For years, broker/dealers took a back seat as investment banks developed massive debt-product inventories that they could add to or draw from at will to satisfy clients' needs. But the credit crunch has forced banks to become more conservative, essentially ending that practice.

Broker/dealers, meanwhile, have rarely kept sizable inventories. "Now [investment banks are] in the same boat as the little guys. They have to actually go out and find product," one mortgage-bond trader said.

Headhunters said broker/dealers gained some allure with job hunters this week, as President Obama unveiled a plan to place a $500,000 cap on the salaries of top executives at financial institutions that receive federal bailout money. The added appeal reflects the fact that few broker/dealers have needed government assistance. "Why would you want to work for a big bank that caps your salary, when you could go to a mid-size broker/dealer and not have to worry about how much you pull in," one recruiter said.

A mortgage-bond marketer with a few years of experience can pull down $300,000 to $400,000 a year at a broker/dealer. Traders can earn $500,000 to $1 million.

But it's not like broker/dealers alone can absorb the thousands of securitization professionals who have lost their jobs since the market fell apart nearly two years ago. Those individuals have been crowding the job market ever since, creating intense competition for an ever-shrinking number of openings and thereby driving down salary levels. And there's no improvement in sight for their employment prospects, as securitization volume remains depressed and the financial industry as a whole keeps taking its lumps.

Job hunting will be a popular activity during the American Securitization Forum's upcoming conference in Las Vegas. About 3,600 securitization specialists have registered for the four-day event, which begins on Feb. 8.

Demand has been especially weak for structured-product bankers, structuring specialists and loan originators - the individuals who once dominated the market. Openings are also scarce for portfolio managers and analysts. "If I get a resume from a loan-origination guy, it's a race to see how fast I can get it into the garbage can," said Chadrin Dean of Phoenix recruiting shop Integrated Management Resources.

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