Could it be that things are actually looking up?

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Needless to say we like to err on the side of pessimism and predict hair-based undergarments for all by 2011, but in the past week or so there have been several causes for optimism.

No fewer than three institutions - Bank of America, Deutsche and Barclays Capital - have indicated that the start of 2009 has been appreciably better than the end of 2008.

Last week, Ken Lewis described BofA's performance in January as "encouraging".

He was swiftly followed by Josef Ackermann, who said revenues rose significantly at DB in January.

And today, Bob Diamond and John Varley said BarCap has had an "extremely strong" start to the year thanks to a plentiful flow of new bonds onto the market.

Sadly, this does not appear to have fed through to new jobs yet. The head of recruitment at one bank says hiring activity is currently more about scoping the market than committing to anything in particular.

Recruiters agree. "At the hiring managers are hopeful and have been given the word that the business plan for 2009 will get the go ahead. They've identified individuals they're interested in, but there's no budgetary approval yet," says Zaheer Ibrahim at Kennedy Associates.

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