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Headhunters relish jitters

THE NEWS last week that the Spanish bank Grupo Santander is to shed 60 investment banking jobs in London may have only been a small item in the financial press, but for those who work in the City it has ominous forebodings.

The bank's staff cuts, which will total about 300 globally, are the biggest reduction by a European bank during the current spell of market turmoil. There will be more to come.

Grupo Santander's most dramatic withdrawal was from Asia, a market it only entered seven months before when it bought parts of the collapsed Hong Kong investment bank, Peregrine. In a statement, the bank said the Asian equity market was "just dead".

But while the brunt of the carnage was in Asia, most City workers believe it is coming their way. According to some observers, the crisis triggered by the collapse of economies in Asia and Russia could lead to thousands of job losses over the next couple of years.

"People are certainly edgier about what the future holds than they were 10 weeks ago," said Kenneth MacLennan, head of financial services for the headhunters Korn Ferry International.

"You can't have a reduction in the market capitalisation of the financial services industry of over 40 per cent and not have a change in attitude," he said.

"Redundancies are a very effective way of cutting expenses and appearing at the same time to be proactive about the crisis to shareholders," said another City headhunter, who did not want to be named.

The year started badly for City employment prospects when the Union Bank of Switzerland and Swiss Bank Corporation said in February that 3,000 jobs in London would be lost as a result of their multi-billion merger. The news was followed by a number of banks slashing their staff in their Asian operations as the crisis there deepened, triggering a rush of unemployed financial experts returning to the City to look for new employment. Other job losses this year include 350 at the London arm of Yamaichi, which went bankrupt last November.

As the current crisis continues to bite, headhunters say the staff most likely to be affected will be the middle-range earners because they are easier to fire than those in the top bracket, who require massive pay- offs.

Headhunters, however, see some opportunity in the new situation, as bankers, who have given up hoping for a massive bonus this year, start to scout around for more secure employment. "There will be some excellent talent on the streets very soon," said one.