(Dow Jones) The number of financial advisors leaving major brokerages has essentially slowed to a halt along with recruitment at these firms, according to Discovery Database's November report, and the virtual freeze could be just beginning.

Industry analysts and brokerage firm executives have attributed the sharp drop-off to the retention packages and deferred compensation programs that are tying down top producers at the major firms for several more years. There are differing opinions as to when it will pick up again.

Bob Ellis, wealth management principal at Novarica, says that after a remarkably volatile period of mergers and job-swapping, the industry-old game of musical chairs has likely ended for a few years.

"Everyone who was going to move as a result of the financial crisis has already moved, and now the rest have retention packages so they will wait until those are almost up," he said.

Ellis said he doesn't think recruiting will return to a normal level until the forgivable loans in those retention packages come closer to expiration--although a sustained market rally could do the trick sooner, he added.

Discovery Database, which tracks advisor moves each month, said that in November 177 brokers left major firms, known as wirehouses. That's down 51% from 361 in October.

Many advisors moved at the beginning of the year, hoping to make up for lost wealth from falling company stock prices with signing bonuses from another firm.

But moving when the market is down can be risky, because it gives clients an excuse to leave their advisor, said Charlie Johnston, president of the new joint venture Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. He thinks that recruiting will pick up at the wirehouses as the market continues to climb and advisors aren't as worried about losing clients in a move.

Dennis Gallant, president of GDC Research, which does consulting and research for financial-services firms, said he thinks the new year could bring a wave of movement.

With the stock market "settling down" as 2009 comes to a close, he said advisors could be "waiting to start fresh next year."

To be sure, there could still be a surge in activity at the end of the year as many advisors typically look to switch firms before a scheduled period during which the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority suspends the registration of brokers with new employers.

However, with an earlier-than-expected slowdown in trading affecting the big investment banks, brokers could opt to stay put until markets are more active again.

In November, Discovery reported that Bank of America Corp.'s Merrill Lynch fared the best among the major firms, adding about 90 advisors and losing only 30. Wells Fargo & Co. saw about 30 advisors leave and brought in about 20. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney lost 60 advisors and hired about 35. And UBS AG's Wealth Management U.S. had losses of roughly 50 advisors while recruiting around 5.

A Morgan Stanley Smith Barney spokeswoman declined comment. Representatives from Merrill Lynch, Wells Fargo Advisors and UBS didn't immediately return requests for comment.

Discovery's numbers aren't exact because the data aren't reported publicly by the firms. The reports sometimes include moves from the previous month because of lag time in gathering the information.

With the numbers falling in the past four months, Gallant said it's important to keep in mind that even before the recession "there was a shrinking pool of advisors" and that recruiting is very competitive.

This could make recruiting tougher going forward for the wirehouses.

"The shops with the best recruiting will be the shops that are coming through with the best brand," Ellis said. "Because advisors are running out of reasons to switch to another large wirehouse."

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