J.P. Morgan bankers in line for 34% raise: update

April 13, 2011, 4:36 PM UTC

Who says there’s no wage growth in the United States?

Bankers at J.P. Morgan, the investment banking unit of JPMorgan Chase (JPM), are in line for a 34% raise this year, if the bank keeps paying at its torrid first-quarter clip.

The more the merrier

The investment bank set aside $3.3 billion for compensating its 26,494 workers in the first quarter. That’s equivalent to $124,330 for the quarter and projects to $497,320 for the year.

That compares with the $370,000 or so J.P. Morgan bankers pulled down last year. That was not exactly peanuts, obviously, but it compared unfavorably to the $431,000 average at Goldman (GS) and the $514,000 at Deutsche Bank (DB), last year’s king of the bonus pool. And needless to say it is absolutely imperative that the banks raise their pay so as to hold onto all their valuable talent.

Of course, a big rise in compensation expense in the first quarter doesn’t guarantee bankers will get big raises. Like its rivals, JPMorgan Chase says it aims to pay out between 35% and 40% of investment bank revenue out as compensation. This year’s first quarter came in at the high end of that range, and last year’s at the low end, so just multiplying the first-quarter pay accrual by four may produce a misleading result.

There is also a seasonal factor to consider: Last year, first-quarter investment bank revenue was a full $2 billion higher than in any other period. If that repeats, average pay will likely end up closer to $400,000 than $500,000.

And the pay surge at J.P. Morgan does come after a quarter in which it signed up AT&T (T) for a giant bridge loan enabling its acquisition of T-Mobile. J.P. Morgan ranked first in announced global merger and acquisition deals during the quarter and first in investment banking fees, according to Dealogic.

Still, the quarter was hardly a knockout financially. Revenue at the investment bank actually fell 1% from a year ago, and profits slipped 4% from a year earlier. The bank’s return on equity was an impressive-looking 24% — impressive looking till you see last year’s figure was 25%.

So it goes. On Wall Street there is always pay. Performance, on the other hand, is strictly optional.

*Updated to add grafs discussing the bank’s payout policy, etc.

[cnnmoney-video vid=/video/news/2011/01/27/n_dimon_financial_reg.cnnmoney/]

Also on Fortune.com:

Follow me on Twitter