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Apr 17, 2012
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Goldman should relish being lost in crowd for now

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By Antony Currie
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions epxressed are his own.

For a firm like Goldman Sachs that is so used to standing out from the crowd, the prospect of being in the middle of the pack must grate beyond belief. But after a spate of governance and image problems, executives at the investment bank should relish its first-quarter results getting lost in the crowd.

Goldman managed an annualized return on equity of 12.2 percent. That’s bang in line with universal banking rivals JPMorgan and Wells Fargo – and with what Citi’s core business appears to have achieved. But its first quarter fell short of JPMorgan’s investment bank, which, after stripping out the accounting hit on its own debt, cranked out a 23 percent ROE.

Apr 5, 2012
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Jamie Dimon lets smaller rival grab his pulpit

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By Antony Currie
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Step aside Jamie Dimon. The JPMorgan chief can usually be relied on for a feisty and fresh letter to his bank’s shareholders – one that has come to be more closely watched than others written by his peers. Even Warren Buffett has showered praise on Dimon’s epistles. This year, though, his efforts fall a bit flat. That clears the way for the pen of Robert Wilmers. The boss of regional bank M&T has a take on the state of financial markets that makes it the must-read missive of the season.

Apr 4, 2012
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Wall Street hangs in limbo despite market rebound

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By Antony Currie

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Wall Street shouldn’t get too excited about the latest recovery. Helped in part by a more stable Europe, investment banks have started 2012 far better than they ended 2011. They probably raked in more revenue in all areas but M&A and buying and selling equities in the first three months of the year. But false dawns have marked each of the past two years. And even if this comeback sticks, most firms will need considerably more trading and deal-making to earn decent returns.

Apr 2, 2012
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Goldman follows board stitch-up with smackdown

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By Antony Currie

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Goldman Sachs seems determined to ride roughshod over its shareholders. It’s true the bank’s stock is close to nudging back above book value – a sign that owners are getting more comfortable with the balance sheet and earnings power. But with its new appointment to lead director, Goldman’s management and board are showing a startling disregard for decent corporate governance.

Mar 29, 2012
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IPO feeding frenzy isn’t quite ready for Facebook

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By Antony Currie

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

How hard is it to put a price on mac ’n’ cheese? Clearly, it was tougher than Credit Suisse and JPMorgan, the underwriters on the initial public offering of Annie’s, bargained for. Shares of the humble pasta and organic food maker have doubled since trading opened on Wednesday. And that’s not the only U.S. debut investors are devouring. Online advertising firm Millennial Media stock also nearly doubled when it launched on Thursday. More deals are teed up than the market has seen in a single week for over a decade. But there’s still reason for the enthusiasm to be curbed.

Mar 26, 2012
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Botched BATS IPO at least good test of markets

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By Antoy Currie
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

The botched BATS initial public offering could be disastrous for the upstart electronic exchange. It scrapped its market debut on Friday after shares crashed from their $16 opening to just 2 cents after a “serious technical failure.” It’s a potential killer for the company, which is already the focus of investigations into high-frequency trading. The good news is that the stumble didn’t catalyze a broader market meltdown.

That at least offers some reassurance that the infrastructure of U.S. equity markets is far more robust than it was at the time of the so-called Flash Crash of May 2010. Markets tanked 9 percent in seconds then, after a few random trades kicked off a tailspin across the many electronic trading platforms and exchanges handling U.S stocks.

Mar 15, 2012
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Fed’s Citi logic is hard to follow

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By Antony Currie
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions epxressed are his own.

Citigroup boss Vikram Pandit undoubtedly deserves some of the digs he’s getting for his bank’s inability to pass the Federal Reserve stress test. He spent much of the past year talking up the bank’s risk-management nous and the prospect of returning capital to shareholders this year. And in fact, Pandit appears to have miscalculated and may have tried to give back too much. But it’s also hard to follow some of the logic behind the regulator’s decision to flunk the recovering mega-bank.

According to the Fed’s loan loss assumptions, only Capital One will be harder hit than Citi’s overall rate of 11.2 percent. Considering Citi’s past performance, both in the most recent financial crisis and so many others over the past couple of decades, the extra caution is warranted. And Pandit still has a bundle of crummy mortgage assets stuck in his bad bank, Citi Holdings.

Mar 13, 2012
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Fed strikes right balance with latest stress test

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By Antony Currie The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

The Federal Reserve has found the right balance with its latest round of stress tests of the 19 largest U.S. banks. Unlike its last look under the hood of American finance a year ago, the central bank’s regulators this time are giving investors reams of more useful data to help separate the industry’s sheep from its goats. And they’re acting prudently to ensure capital adequacy in the system.

The results were better than expected considering the extremity of the stress scenario: banks had to prove they had enough capital to withstand a 13 percent unemployment rate, a 50 percent crash in the stock market and a 20 percent slump in house prices. That led investors to assume that few banks would be allowed to reinstate or boost dividends or buy back stock.

Mar 8, 2012
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Bankers behaving badly are no black swans

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By Antony Currie

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

It’s hard to feel too sympathetic for wealthy financiers caught behaving badly. But considering the stress of the job, and simple statistics, it shouldn’t be too shocking to hear of Wall Streeters stabbing a cabbie or defecating in public. More surprising is that such tales are so rare.

Some 170,000 people are employed in the securities industry in New York City, many of them working in high-pressure roles overseeing or advising others about vast sums of money. Traders, especially, seem prime candidates for becoming social miscreants. Academic studies have even mined the traits they share with psychopaths.

Mar 6, 2012
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Lehman is back! Is the financial crisis over?

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By Antony Currie
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

If only 42 really was the answer to life, the universe and everything. That’s how many months Lehman Brothers languished in Chapter 11 protection. The Wall Street firm’s failure in September 2008 triggered a global financial meltdown. Sadly, the emergence of its ghost from bankruptcy three-and-a-half years later scarcely offers even symbolic hope that the crisis is truly over.

Lehman’s was neither a typical bankruptcy of the kind seen, say, at American Airlines nor a quickie reboot like the ones the government funded at Chrysler and General Motors. Instead, the firm offloaded its major businesses just days after going under – the asset management unit to its partners, the U.S. brokerage to Barclays, and the European and Asian operations to Nomura.

    • About Antony

      "Antony Currie has more than a decade of experience as a financial journalist, having worked with Euromoney since 1996, most recently as a U.S. editor. He has worked on assignments in the major financial centers of Europe and the U.S. and written stories on capital markets, global economies and the investment banking industry. He holds a bachelor's degree in German language and literature and a master's degree in politics and international relations from the University of Bristol."
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