One of Wall Street's biggest bulls has bitten the dust.

Merrill Lynch

(MER)

said Thursday that Bruce Steinberg, the brokerage's chief economist and one of Wall Street's more upbeat analysts, is no longer with the firm.

A Merrill spokeswoman wouldn't comment on the reason for Steinberg's departure, but some described it as a cost-cutting measure or a firing. Steinberg's departure from Merrill comes just days after the firm parted ways with Martin Fridson, its well-known junk-bond guru.

Steinberg, who joined Merrill in 1986, had been the firm's top economist since 1997 and often was quoted by the media. But over the past two years, Steinberg's more upbeat assessment on the economy has seemed out of step with both gloomy economic statistics and the downturn in the stock market.

He's the second high-profile Wall Street bull to be let go by a top securities firm in the past month. In October, Tom Galvin, the eternally bullish equity strategist at Credit Suisse First Boston, lost his job as part of a 20% reduction in CSFB's research department.

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The pace of layoffs has quickened on Wall Street in the latter half of this year, as the nation's brokerages look to bolster their profit margins by cutting expenses.

The Securities Industry Association, a Wall Street trade group, reported that securities firms have eliminated more than 32,000 jobs since the beginning of last year.

Tim Ghriskey, president of Ghriskey Capital, a Connecticut-based hedge fund, said the ousting of high-profile analysts and economists like Steinberg and Galvin has less to do with their bullish picks than with their high salaries.

"It's about cutting big salaries," said Ghriskey. "Economic research is not something traders focus on, even if it's a great service to clients."

But the ouster of high-profile bulls like Steinberg and Galvin may sit well with investors on Main Street, who feel they've been burned the past few years following the optimistic musings of Wall Street analysts and economists.

A survey released by the SIA on Thursday shows just how little regard average investors have for Wall Street these days -- especially after all the allegations of research analysts' issuing biased reports to pump up stocks.

Forty-one percent of the investors surveyed said "dishonesty" is the securities industry's main problem. A year ago, just 8% offered that response. And 55% of those polled called the integrity of research analysts a "big problem" for the securities industry. The SIA released the survey during its annual convention in Boca Raton, Fla.