HSBC bonuses may be quite presentable

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If you want to earn a lot of money, HSBC hasn't traditionally been the place to do it. This, after all, is the bank that popularized the widespread payment of zero bonuses back in 2003, when only 10% of its equity research staff (allegedly) were paid in anything resembling cash.

This year, however, things could be different. According to various sources, HSBC's bonus pool is down by a mere third, while that of UK rival Barclays is down nearly 50% and RBS's is virtually non-existent.

This relative generosity may be because HSBC's global banking and markets division has actually been doing quite well. In the first half of 2008 it even achieved a profit of $2.7bn, thanks to its emerging markets, FX and rates businesses.

HSBC has also been restrained when it comes to headcount eradication. 1,100 people were cut from global banking and markets in September 2008, but subsequent reductions have focused on clerical and computer services staff.

Nevertheless, headhunters say HSBC's investment bankers still aren't in a particularly enviable position. ""They've been winning business by throwing their balance sheet at it, rather than relying on individual contacts and they didn't pay very good bonuses in the first place," says one M&A search consultant.

In this context, she says 30% down may still look fairly "crappy" compared to other banks.