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The highest paid 24 year-old traders are probably on the rates desks

Not all traders are paid the same. If you aspire to some of the highest and best paid trading jobs in banks, it's partly about the products you trade. And as our recent salary and bonus survey made clear, traders on some desks earn more than traders on others. 

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As the chart below shows, our survey suggests that macro traders earned the most in combined salary and bonus ($484k) in 2023, followed by credit and equity traders, who were on roughly equivalent $400k average packages, followed by commodities traders on $369k.

These averages conceal wide variations in pay for traders working on more and less liquid and bespoke products. Structured traders and traders working on less liquid high yield trades tend to earn more than the rest.

(We still can't display charts on mobile phones 😢. Sorry. Try a desktop view) 

Macro traders include both rates and inflation traders and FX traders. We're not the only ones to think that they're well paid: an ad hoc survey of total compensation for traders by Instagram account LeveredLloyd reached a similar conclusion last year. It found rates traders are generally the best paid, along with structured products traders. 

Gary Stevenson, the ex-Citi STIRT (short term interest rate trader) who claims to have once been "the best trader in the world" and who made a $2m bonus in 2011 aged 24, is the new poster child for the potential to make huge amounts of money at a young age on rates desks. He burned out and retired a few years later.

Gary's glory years were particularly kind to macro traders. As he says in his book, in the aftermath of the financial crisis, he and his colleagues were able to making a fortune borrowing dollars for free on a daily basis from the Fed and lending them for three-month periods at a premium. Similar opportunities were created after the eurozone crisis in 2010. "Everyone made good money," one of Stevenson's colleagues recalls.   

Some people on macro desks are still making good money over a decade later. Two years ago, one of Goldman Sachs' top traders in London was Wajih Ahmed, a precocious 24-year-old trader on the inflation desk. Ahmed's own pnl wasn't in clear, but he's thought to have had a significant part in the $300m profit made by the desk in the first three months of the year alone.

As 2024 heats up and uncertainty about the direction of interest rates continues, headhunters say rates traders are in big demand. Deutsche Bank has gaps, so does Citi, so maybe does Goldman Sachs after exits over Christmas. Nomura is building a team under Hemish Shah. Most importantly, though, the biggest multi-strategy hedge funds are hiring anyone good.

"Most of the hiring activity is across rates, broadly defined," says one headhunter who works in both New York and London. " - The moves are in treasuries, European government bonds and other Sovereigns, Supranationals and Agencies (SSAs) and inflation. Some of the moves are from bank to bank, but a lot of the moves are to hedge funds."

Many of the rates traders who've left Citi in the past year have gone to hedge funds. Pushkar Jha, Goldman's London head of inflation trading, went to DE Shaw in New York over Christmas. One time Nomura trader Sameer Garg is building a macro team at Caxton in Dubai. There are many others.

As senior macro traders are lured by the pay at hedge funds, headhunters say banks are working harder to retain existing traders and are promoting junior traders more quickly than might otherwise be the case. When James Konrad and Biagio Lapolla left Citi for hedge funds last year, for example, sources say the bank gave some of their responsibilities to more junior traders, Giorgio Paulin and Rahul Mehra, who are now leaving (probably for hedge funds) themselves. 

"If you're a bank with seven or eight people on a macro desk and every year you lose two of them to a hedge fund, it's super hard," says one headhunter. "This is why you can get promoted quickly in macro. I would absolutely say it's a good place to start a trading career." 

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AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor

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