Bank crisis chills London Christmas party mood

LONDON Fri Nov 28, 2008 10:34am EST

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LONDON (Reuters) - Christmas cheer for London's bankers is disappearing as fast as City jobs this year.

Financial firms have cut more than 180,000 jobs globally in the current crisis and, according to compensation consultants Options Group, the average bonus worldwide will be almost halved this year.

At such times, company generosity takes a back seat.

Employees at Goldman Sachs (GS.N), BNP Paribas (BNPP.PA), Barclays (BARC.L), Morgan Stanley (MS.N), Citigroup (C.N) and WestLB WDLGgi.F will have to pay for their own parties.

Those who do receive a Christmas perk from their bosses will enjoy a less lavish celebration.

"Budgets haven't been great ... People do look for cheaper stuff," said Annas Mohammed-Ali, corporate event manager at London-based organizer Metparties whose clients include investment banks.

Metparties' bookings are down by two thirds from last year, he said.

Embattled Swiss bank UBS (UBSN.VX) and the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS.L), which is in line to receive a 20 billion pound ($30.23 billion) capital injection from the British government, are among the few banks paying for Christmas parties.

HAVE A DRINK ON ME

But RBS is spending just 10 pounds ($15) a head, an RBS spokeswoman said, probably enough for one cocktail in some of London's fancier bars.

Those willing to fork out a more substantial amount will be able to give their staff more than just a drink this Christmas. Metparties can arrange entertainment from live bands, dancers and magicians at top-end venues in London, said Mohammed-Ali.

One metal trading company is spending 45,000 pounds on a party for 400 people, he said, which works out at 112 pounds per person.

"That's a really good budget but there aren't many of them this year."

A spend of 75 pounds or less per reveller is more common this year, according to William Bailey, manager at events firm Planit, whose clients include banks, law and accounting firms and insurers. Most of Planit's clients are paying that much or less for "slightly lower-key" Christmas parties, he said.

"Clients are very budget-conscious," he added.

In previous, less austere years, Planit ran a series of parties with themes ranging from Moulin Rouge and a Russian winter to a Venetian masquerade and a feast of Bacchus.

In 2005 French bank BNP Paribas held a Madame Butterfly-themed party in a marquee in Finsbury Square, in the heart of the City of London financial district.

This year, however, end-of-year festivities are falling victim to the new somber mood.

JPMorgan (JPM.N) sent invitations earlier this month to its annual Hong Kong media party, an event where bankers and financial journalists gossip over drinks and dim sum.

The party was to be held at the China Club, a prestigious venue famous for its Chinese modern art collection and balcony with sweeping views. Last week, the bank called to say that the party was canceled and would likely be rescheduled around Chinese New Year in early 2009.

Time will tell if bankers and journalists are in more of a party mood in the Year of the Ox.

(Additional reporting by Michael Flaherty in Hong Kong; Editing by David Cowell)

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