Investment banks brace for more job cuts

HONG KONG: Job cuts at Western investment banks in Asia are expected to increase this year as revenue pressures rise due to deepening economic and market turmoil in China, even as deal prospects brighten in Japan and India, headhunters and bankers say.

A new round of staff cuts that began in late 2023 on the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong, key regional investment banking hubs, will gather pace in the coming months, they added.

US boutique bank Lazard announced internally last month it would close its Beijing office, resulting in some employees being laid off, while others were to be relocated to Hong Kong, two people with knowledge of the move said.

Its European peer Rothschild disbanded its Shanghai-based team in the fourth quarter, two separate people with knowledge of the matter said.

Bank of America last month announced job cuts of more than 20 bankers in Asia.

The sources declined to be named as they are not authorised to speak to the media. Lazard and Rothschild declined to comment.

China’s stock markets hovering around five-year lows and the country’s weaker-than-expected recovery from the pandemic have deepened investor worries and soured companies’ domestic demand outlook. Geopolitical tensions have also driven foreign investors away.

“If the deal flow continues the way it has been in 2023, the market could expect some more cuts,” said Sid Sibal, vice-president Greater China and head of Hong Kong, at recruitment firm Hudson.

Financial institutions on average have cut roughly 20% of their workforce in Asia last year – with some reductions hitting the highest level since the 2008 financial crisis, Sibal said.

More than 400 investment bankers lost their jobs in Hong Kong alone, most of them focused on China deals, said two investment banking headhunters, who declined to be identified as they are not authorised to speak to the media.

“I don’t think western investors will come back to look at China deals soon,” said a regional investment banking head at a large European bank who also declined to be named for the same reason.

Global investment banks’ income from equities business generated from Chinese clients slumped to US$4bil in 2023, 30% lower than 2022, and M&A posted a 16% fall to US$629mil last year, according to data from LSEG. — Reuters

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