Little Holly Jolly at Christmastide Among West Coast Firms

A tough third-quarter spells a tougher party season. Lavish dinners are out -- departmental drinks are in.
Author:
Publish date:

SAN FRANCISCO -- Put away the dancing shoes, black ties and fishtail dresses. Even with stock indices right back in the thick of record-setting marches, the champagne days of Christmas didn't surface this holiday season.

"You can tell what kind of year it's been by the firms' Christmas party," says one trader on the

Pacific Stock Exchange

. "We should call it the Christmas index."

Trading firm

Group One

normally has a sit-down, three-course dinner for its employees and their spouses, but this year, it opted for a cocktail party.

"We had a Christmas party, but it was definitely less extravagant than in years past," says Heidi Lettis of Group One. This year, about 65 traders and spouses celebrated with a casual cocktail party on the first Friday in December at the

Atrium

, described in

Microsoft's

sidewalk.com

site as "an oasis of inexpensive pan-Asian cuisine" in the financial district.

No champagne flowed this year at Group One's gathering. Instead, people drank mostly wine, beer and a few mixed drinks. And instead of a band, people moved with the humming of some "decent" conversation, one attendee said.

Even though investors may be smiling, the body blow to the market this past fall did a lot of damage in the securities industry. Group One traders are accustomed to more, but at least they had some celebration.

Hambrecht & Quist

(HQ)

and

Franklin Advisers

canceled their big companywide holiday fetes altogether.

Franklin celebrated last year with a dinner and a band, but after a volatile year that saw their assets take a dip (Franklin spokeswoman Holly Gibson assures us, though, that assets are back up now), the fund-management company decided to cancel its traditional festivities.

"We encouraged each area to have their own celebration," Gibson says. "We just felt it was more appropriate to be a little bit more casual this year."

H&Q also walked the conservative line. Last year, H&Q had an extravagant holiday party with an open bar, music and dance floor in the

Presidio

, with some estimating the cost up around a quarter of a million dollars for about 800 people.

"But the market was pretty tough late in the third quarter and

early in the fourth quarter this year, and we announced a hiring freeze and had limited layoffs," says a person familiar with H&Q's situation. "So, it didn't seem right to throw a lavish Christmas party."

A source at H&Q notes that the firm's business is back on track, with brokerage commissions at record levels, mergers-and-acquisitions business looking healthy and the hiring freeze lifted a couple of weeks ago.

"It all makes sense

that holiday parties would be scaled down because it's a cyclical market," says the H&Q source. "Because of the tough third and fourth quarters, people aren't spending like the way they did in the boom years."

BancBoston Robertson Stephens

was one of the few big firms that held to tradition this year, having its annual holiday party earlier this month for its 1,500 employees and spouses in San Francisco's hip

SOMA

neighborhood. But the firm's party was also said to be less lavish than in years past. Starting at 8 p.m., people dressed in everything from black tie to blazers sipped from the open bar, munched on hors d'oeuvres and danced to music from an eight-piece band until after midnight.

Where were the cutbacks? "Well, I think they cut the hours," says one BancBoston Robertson Stephens employee. "It used to start earlier. And I think they cut down on the food. They used to have a little buffet, and they only had hors d'oeuvres. And I think they probably had less variety."

Yeah, tell it to the folks at H&Q and Franklin.