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Merrill Lynch’s decision to sack 3,400 staff in the wake of the global financial crisis brought to mind the days when most City brokers didn’t even employ a tenth as many people. But back in the 1980s, one firm was rumoured to have been in such trouble that it had decided to lay off 600 staff. “They only actually have 400,” the wags said. “They’re selling short on the rest.”

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