`Win or lose, have a booze'

For the lucky few thousand who corner the pounds 1bn bonus pot, the only problem is finding a way to spend it

The setting for the dinner was the hospitality suite of one of London's leading broking firms. Seated around the table were about 24 foreign exchange traders, enjoying the food almost as much as they were the topless waitresses laid on to serve it. In a scene straight out of Bonfire of the Vanities or one of the other chronicles of 1980s financial excess, dessert was followed by a raunchy, 90-minute floor show performed by the same, versatile ladies, now dressed even more scantily than before.

Tacky and sexist, perhaps, but hardly unusual in the 1980s, the decade when greed became good. Except that the feast took place last week. In the City, the excesses of that decade are back, and there is no better time to celebrate than bonus time.

That dirty couple of dozen are among the thousands who are revelling in a record year for the Square Mile. A bonus pot containing well in excess of pounds 1bn is expected to be distributed around the City in the next few months and, for the lucky few thousand who corner the bulk of it, the only problem is finding a way to spend it.

Some will have known all year that a windfall beckoned. One foreign exchange trader at a US investment bank, who had made $90m (pounds 55.5m) for his employers, earned a bonus of $5m. The following year, despite losing $100m, he took home another $5m windfall.

For most, however, bonus day meetings mark the end of weeks of uncertainty as rumours of favourable treatment for others prompt concern that their expectations will not be met. They rarely are. Banks employ a variety of tricks, notably the use of skewed exchange rates, to whittle down the bonus bill. Still, the end of the nail-biting is usually an ample pretext for celebration.

"Win or lose, have a booze," is how one trader sums up the task of finding somewhere to celebrate or commiserate. Colleagues descend en masse to the City bars before moving on to swankier venues in the West End. Lap- dancing clubs and casinos, where blowing pots of cash is never a problem, have become favoured destinations to round off these festivities.

One gang of freshly remunerated high-fliers, finding at six in the morning that there was nowhere for them to continue their drinking, hired a suite at the Great Eastern Hotel in Liverpool Street to provide further sustenance until they were due back at their desks.

Other famous celebrations include the dealer who hired a helicopter to transport him and his colleagues to Le Touquet in France for a round of golf and dinner before flying home that evening.

The following day, it is time to begin the arduous task of deciding how to spend the millions. The usual suspects - fast cars, designer suits, holiday homes, bejewelled watches - are high on many shopping lists. Bonuses are also paid in time for Christie's busy January season, should the art- loving financier want to invest in decorative works.

Meanwhile, one London-based whizz-kid, who owned the best part of a village in Kent, took the opportunity of his latest pay-out to get the leaves cleared from his estate - he paid the local villagers to do it.

Just as thieves try to avoid expensive post-heist purchases, so it pays for newly enriched bankers to keep a low profile. One Wall Street analyst, unable to contain his joy, bragged to a journalist of the Rolex watch and Porsche he had acquired with his windfall. When the story appeared in the following day's papers, his employers wasted no time in ensuring that was the only bonus they would ever pay him.

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