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Twitchy time until bonuses paid out

It's 'twitching time' (as opposed to the 'witching time') in Hong Kong this month, as investment bank employees adopt their best behaviour ahead of their bonus payments.

"Bonuses have been announced but they haven't been paid yet. The last thing anyone wants is to be fired now," says Christopher Lewis, an independent recruitment consultant in Hong Kong.

The tension in the air over at the International Finance Tower and Exchange Square is not just about that however: it's also about the amount people have been told they will get this year.

Although it's been a great year, Lewis says that one thing hasn't changed, namely the seemingly almost totally random sums people will be taking home.

"If there's one generalization you can make about bonuses, it's that you can't make generalizations," he says, and warns bankers they could be each getting quite different amounts from their peers at other banks for no apparent reason.

"It's not necessarily a matter of doing the job better or worse than other guy. There are just so many variables involved," he says.

Different banks will have different strategies, as will different sectors within the banks. Banks may want to grow sectors which haven't made much money this year because they see potential next year - and vice versa.

Usually the money is allocated downwards from a global bonus pool in head office. The amount of horse trading that goes on as the cash cascades down the ladder is phenomenal, say recruiters. What's for sure is that traders should not be looking at bonuses as a validation of the meaning of life.

"It's best to pretty cynical about it," says one banker, from bitter experience. "Some years I have been pleasantly surprises, and in other years I've been gutted."

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