SAN FRANCISCO - In a sign that many brokerages and investment banks whose fortunes rose with those of Nasdaq-listed companies do not expect a turnaround soon, across-the-board layoffs are getting deeper and more frequent.
In the latest round, Robertson Stephens, the San Francisco investment banking unit of FleetBoston Financial, confirmed Monday that it will eliminate 80 positions in its offices in the United States and Europe.
The latest cuts and a smattering of job eliminations already made this quarter will total 11% of the company's work force and lower the head count to around 1,400, said Robertson Stephens spokeswoman Courtney Weber.
Just last week, San Francisco neighbor Charles Schwab & Co. said that it would cut 13% of its work force because of lower trading activity at the discount brokerage. In the same week, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. eliminated several positions in its mergers-and-acquisitions group, a source close to the situation said. The firm was not immediately available to comment.
Other Wall Street investment banks that are not as dependent as Robertson Stephens is on equity capital markets nonetheless are suffering. Bear Stearns & Co. said in early March that it was eliminating 400 positions, 3.6% its work force.
Merrill Lynch, which this week was reported to be eyeing cost-saving measures, is "not anticipating large across-the-board cuts," spokesman Joseph Cohen said. "As we've said in the past and in light of current market conditions, we continue to be aggressively focused on selective expense reduction."
Merrill eliminated about 1,800 back-office positions last summer and cut 60 equity research positions in early 2001. The company has also consolidated some of its international businesses in recent months, with a focus on Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.
Given that Robertson Stephens' equity underwriting business is down about 95% year-on-year, "I'm surprised they weren't deeper," Gerard Cassidy, an analyst for Tucker Anthony Sutro Capital Markets in Portland, Maine, said of the layoffs.
In the first quarter of 2000, the peak of the tech-stock boom, Robertson Stephens underwrote about $1 billion in U.S. initial public offerings. This year volume for the same issues has plummeted to one issue worth $18.8 million, according to Thomson Financial Securities Data.
IPO underwriting's problems are hurting all firms. New issues this quarter are down 75%, to $4 billion year over year.
Robertson Stephens' is material to parent FleetBoston's bottom line. In the first quarter of 2000, the subsidiary's revenues made up 61% of the parent's $3.8 billion capital markets business, which includes the discount brokerage Quick & Reilly and its New York specialist firm activities.
Robertson Stephens' first-quarter revenue drop is expected to knock down Fleet's capital markets revenues more than 50%, Mr. Cassidy said. The subsidiary's first-quarter 2001 revenues are projected to be $100 million to $150 million, against $646 million in the first quarter of 2000. Its fourth-quarter revenues were $279 million.
Rumors have heated up in the past week about impending layoffs at Robertson Stephens and J.P. Morgan, as has speculation that there will be extensive firings of less-experienced investment banking positions such as associates and analysts.
Underlining its ties to the new economy companies that fueled the Nasdaq's rise and have been taken down with its fall, news of the firm's impending layoffs also appeared Monday on a Web site that has become an oracle for dot-com and tech-related job cuts - the iconoclastic www.fuckedcompany.com.
Ms. Weber of Robertson Stephens said the job eliminations announced this week will affect a broad range of employees in investment banking and "infrastructure" areas - such as marketing and finance - but not research. She said the firm has not made cuts by rank, such as laying off all third-year investment banking analysts.