Wall Street saying 'help wanted' again Doldrums dating to '87 crash fade

November 30, 1991|By Barbara Demick | Barbara Demick,Knight-Ridder News Service

NEW YORK -- Elizabeth Katsivelos was delighted when her telephone started ringing a few months ago. Wall Street firms were inquiring whether they might pay a visit to Columbia Business School to interview MBA candidates due to receive their diplomas in December.

"They were calling with some urgency. They said they had immediate needs for people in sales and training, in corporate finance," said Ms. Katsivelos, the business school's director of investment career services.

This was particularly gratifying to Ms. Katsivelos, since the big investment houses stopped coming to recruit December graduates several years ago, limiting themselves to spring graduates.

But Wall Street is growing again. It might be a meow compared with what was described as the roaring 1980s. But there are incontrovertible signs that there are jobs out there again, from the advertisements desperately seeking stockbrokers to the renewed fervor of campus recruiters.

"There has been a lot of rehiring. I won't say it is an avalanche, but it is a lot relative to 1990," said Ron Diorio, a partner at Korn/Ferry International, an executive search firm in New York.

The Securities Industry Association, a trade group, reported that the industry added about 5,000 jobs in the first half of 1991, a gain of just over 2 percent. The gain is small, but it reflects a marked turnaround for an industry that lost one-fifth of its work force after the stock market crash of 1987.

The gains are remarkable next to the brutal contraction in other financial sectors, particularly banking and insurance.

In New York, Samuel Ehrenhalt, regional commissioner for the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, suggested that Wall Street has been several steps ahead of trends elsewhere.

"The gong rang [for the securities industry] immediately after the Oct. 19, 1987, stock market crash," Mr. Ehrenhalt said. "But if you look at all the various industries that are now going through this wrenching restructuring, this is the first one where employment is starting to stabilize."

Indeed, Wall Street is enjoying a perversely robust year, given the otherwise dismal state of the economy. The Securities Industry Association said revenues are nearly 12 percent higher than in 1990, and profits are projected to approach the $5.5 billion record set in 1986.

The industry's recovery has been closely tied to a rally in stock prices. Even with the sharp declines recently, the Dow Jones industrial average is up more than 10 percent this year, and the over-the-counter NASDAQ market is up 40 percent. The gains have piqued the interest of small investors, whose trading in the stock market has risen 18 percent this year, according to the New York Stock Exchange.

Securities firms are scrambling to rebuild their sales forces, which dwindled after the crash. Shearson Lehman Bros. Inc. is recruiting 600 to 1,000 people to train as stockbrokers, up from 400 trainees in the class finishing this year.

In a thin job market, Shearson's advertisements in newspaper classified sections "have had a phenomenal response," said Shearson spokeswoman Sally Cates.

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