LONDON, April 6 (Reuters) - The average starting salary for senior workers in the UK financial sector fell 16.5 percent from February to March, the biggest such drop in a year as the number of vacancies slumped compared with a year ago, according to a report.
Job vacancies at banks, asset managers and some insurance companies were down 57 percent in March compared with the previous year, data from recruitment consultancy Morgan McKinley showed.
But while the industry as a whole is hiring fewer people on lower salaries than a year ago, amid continued economic uncertainty, job availability did pick up by 4 percent in the first three months of 2012 from the fourth quarter of 2011.
Investment banks in particular were hit hard in the second half of last year by the euro zone debt crisis, leading to thousands of layoffs in London and other financial centres.
The recent show of optimism tallies with a Confederation of British Industry survey this week that said some financial firms had stopped cutting jobs in the first quarter and were hiring again.
"We are beginning to hear some anecdotal indications from City employers that the market is starting to regain some of the confidence that was particularly low at the end of last year," said Andrew Evans at Morgan McKinley.
Even so, March was a weaker month for hiring than February, with job vacancies dipping 8 percent, a sign that confidence is still fragile.
"Any positive sentiment tends to be immediately cancelled out by some form of negative market commentary. We are genuinely working in a confused and uncertain market," Evans said.
Average salaries for senior bankers, fund managers and senior analysts fell to 78,003 pounds ($123,800) in March. Over the past year, these salaries have risen 2.6 percent, which is below the overall inflation rate of 4.4 percent.
Bankers may take home much greater sums than just salaries, however, with the addition of bonuses and share-based incentives.
Middle market professionals such as human resources officers, junior analysts, project managers, financial controllers, portfolio analysts and business analysts fared worse, however.
Their salaries fell 12.7 percent in the past 12 months to an average of 44,605 pounds when starting a new job, compared with 51,099 in March 2011.
Overall, the average starting salary in the UK finance industry has fallen 7.6 percent since this time last year to 50,330 pounds.