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No Worries, Wall Street’s Hiring!

Yves Smith asked yesterday whether the Federal Reserve is happy with the state of the economy. Well, the Fed is basically owned by the banks, so given that reality, I would say a whopping yes.

While much of the country remains fixated on the bleak employment picture, hiring is beginning to pick up in the place that led the economy into recession — Wall Street.

The shift underscores the remarkable recovery of the biggest banks and brokerage firms since Washington rescued them in the fall of 2008, and follows the huge rebound in profits for members of the New York Stock Exchange, which totaled $61.4 billion in 2009, the most ever. Since employment bottomed out in February, New York securities firms have added nearly 2,000 jobs, a trend that is also playing out nationwide at financial companies, commodity contract traders and investment firms.

Though the figures are small in comparison to overall Wall Street employment, executives, economists and headhunters say they expect the growth to pick up steam in the coming months.

“I think we’re seeing some hiring in anticipation of better times,” said Rae Rosen, a regional economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. “Wall Street typically hires in anticipation of the recovery, and there is a sense that the economy has bottomed out and is slowly improving.”

Yay! You see, 15 million unemployed, there’s no need to become despondent. Just go out and get yourself a Master’s in Business Administration, buy an Italian suit, lose whatever is left of your moral compass and book a one-way ticket to New York City, where the good time have just begun to roll! You should be able to snag yourself a million-dollar salary package in no time.

Of course, the news isn’t all good for global financial behemoths, what with the looming threat of total and utter collapse and all, but if recent history is any guide, that burden will be borne by taxpayers and the “lesser people,” so smoke if you got ’em.

Banks worldwide owe nearly $5 trillion to bondholders and other creditors that will come due through 2012, according to estimates by the Bank for International Settlements. About $2.6 trillion of the liabilities are in Europe.

U.S. banks must refinance about $1.3 trillion through 2012. While that sum is nothing to scoff at, analysts seem most concerned about Europe because the banking system there is already weighed down by the sovereign debt crisis.

How banks will come up with the money is an open question. With investors worried about government over-indebtedness in Greece, Spain, Ireland and other parts of Europe, many banks have been reluctant or unable to sell bonds, which they typically use to raise money that they lend on to businesses and households.

Only $1.3 trillion? Why, the government can float that. That shouldn’t affect Wall Street’s hiring binge.

And to think, I wasn’t feeling so good about the new normal of mass unemployment and economic stagnation. But Wall Street has lightened my mood. You might say I’m feeling “bubbly.”

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David Dayen

David Dayen