Holiday season is a time for traditions—sidewalk Santas, sloppy office parties, yokels walking twelve abreast in Rockefeller Center. But there’s one ritual that sends reverberations all the way from Tribeca to Teaneck: the handing-out of Wall Street bonuses.
This is the week that many Wall Streeters find out how big their checks will be, and word is that bonuses are back, baby! After last year’s depressing figures, rumors of all the zeros to come are causing low-level staff and even their bosses to loosen their grips on their wallets.
“Last year,” says a 22-year-old analyst, “people in my year got $6,000 to $20,000. This year, it’s $10,000 to $30,000.” Enough, apparently, to fund a trip to Biarritz plus a jaunt to Paris for some custom-made suits, not to mention bottle service at Play on Grove Street, and a flat-screen TV. “People are relieved,” says a VP in M&A, whose bonus will be several hundred thousand, and when they’re relieved, “they buy toys.”
“It will be good for Porsche sales,” agrees a fortysomething principal at a foreign bank who just booked a trip to Anguilla. “I’d like to put a down payment on a BMW SUV to replace my Honda,” says a thirtysomething associate. “It’s not that bad, actually—just $40,000. And there’s a really nice Rolex at Tourneau, a silver one, that I want, too.”
Even before getting the cash, many have been laying out the plastic in anticipation. Morrell Wine Bar & Cafe in Rockefeller Center, known for its rare vintages, has already seen a spike in sales of reserve bottles that hadn’t exactly been flying off the shelves. “We sold some $2,500 Harlan and a ton of our $900 Heitz Cabernet from the sixties and seventies,” general manager Demetrius Fexy happily reports. “Usually, there’s one alpha male doing the ordering and everyone else follows his lead.” At Le Bernardin, the special-events salon (à la carte dinners are around $200 a head) is completely booked through mid-January. Across town at the Greenhouse Spa, clients in finance are in the mood for indulgence. They’re asking for $500 packages and treating their wives to a week’s stay at the Greenhouse in Texas. “It starts at $5,725,” says Milana Knowles, the spa’s VP of development. “Last year, even the people who are really wealthy were holding back. If you have $20 million in the bank and suddenly it’s $15 million, you feel poor. You know what I mean?”
It’s a feeling not easily forgotten. After splurging only on an iPod, one 47-year-old with a family to support is putting his bonus in short-term fixed income. So are many of his peers, a fact that makes veteran Masters of the Universe cringe. “I know what my junior guys are doing—they’re building lives,” says a principal at a private equity firm. He sighs. “It’s pathetic. In my day, we’d be buying Picassos—little Picassos, but Picassos! You feel sorry for these people not knowing what it was like,” he says. “The market’s shrunk, and so have imaginations.”