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According to Sayer Energy Advisors, the oil patch racked up just more than $50-billion worth of mergers and acquisitions in 2014, comprising purchase prices plus assumed debt.

The road from blessing to curse has been a short one for brokerages with large energy franchises.

For capital-markets professionals, this will loom large on their annual bonus cheques. That is, 2014 was one of the most lucrative years in recent memory due to a massive resurgence in oil-patch mergers and acquisitions as well as financing.

Don't spend it all in one place. This year, the collapse in crude prices points to a dramatic slowdown in deals and, hence, fees.

The big question is whether a drop in bonus compensation could trigger a resumption of the exodus that hit the sell-side industry in Calgary in 2012 and 2013. The difference this time is that energy companies under growing financial pressure may not be as welcoming to those in investment banking, sales and trading and research departments seeking career changes, as was the case in those years.

"Compensation has always been the primary motivator for people to show up to work in the capital-markets business, so unless some other sector kicks in to replace the void left open by energy – the primary driver of sell-side revenues in 2014 – compensation won't be a very exciting topic in 2015," said Joe Kan, a veteran Bay Street headhunter.

The stats show night and day can be something other than a classic Cole Porter tune.

According to Sayer Energy Advisors, the oil patch racked up just more than $50-billion worth of mergers and acquisitions in 2014, comprising purchase prices plus assumed debt. (That number includes Repsol SA's $15.1-billion takeover bid for Talisman Energy Inc., announced in December but slated to close later this year.)

It was the second-highest number this century, topped only by a couple billion dollars in 2012, a year that included CNOOC Ltd.'s $19.4-billion takeover of Nexen. Last year's activity was on the heels of the doldrums of 2013, when the value of mergers and acquisitions totalled just $13.8-billion, according to Sayer.

Similarly, the advisory firm said equity financing totalled $11.5-billion last year, nearly double the $6.1-billion done the year before, and debt issues were $10.8-billion, up from $9.8-billion.

For bank-owned dealers and their staff, the November-to-October fiscal year encompassed pretty much all of one of the shortest energy booms in recent memory.

That meant big issues, such as Encana Corp.'s initial and secondary offerings of PrairieSky Royalty Ltd. and Seven Generations Energy Ltd.'s IPO, were done, and a progressively weak November and December fell into the following period.

The $4.3-billion worth of PrairieSky deals were led by led by Toronto-Dominion Bank and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and 7Gen was led by Royal Bank of Canada, Credit Suisse and Peters & Co. Ltd.

The flurry fattened their bonus pools as well those at a number of the resource-focused boutiques whose relationships in the energy sector opened the door to leading and participating in the year's activity. The bank-owned dealers have distributed the cheques. Staff at the boutiques and internationally owned players get their payments in the coming weeks.

Some professionals say they had the best year of their careers, though Mr. Kan points out that the big banks have not generally upped their payments by the same magnitude as revenues. That shows they see their organizations' names as bringing in the business, even more so than their heavy hitters.

"With the gap between the record year posted by a number of energy franchises and the more modest increases in year-over-year compensation paid to the professionals generating those numbers, I think it's fair to say that the message from the banks is it's the chair, not the individual," he said.

Of course, oil prices have been halved since the summer, natural gas prices are no great shakes and the deal flow has slowed again as the oil patch readies itself for a long period of squelched cash flows and sharply reduced capital spending. Numerous producers have assets up for sale, but the field of buyers has shrunken.

There may well be energy-focused individuals who decide not to stick it out through another downturn.