Super Bowl may settle buy-side/sell-side rivalry

February 3, 2012

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

Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVI clash will reflect another great rivalry – between Wall Street’s sell-side banks and the buy-side investors of Boston’s mutual fund industry. The New England Patriots will be seeking retribution for a loss to the New York Giants in the same season finale just four years ago. The bragging rights this year could help the two groups of financiers decide, Gordon Gekko style, whose form of greed prevails.

New York’s finance industry, of course, bleeds Giants blue (with occasional streaks of Jets green), while the Patriots share a home with mutual fund firms including behemoths like Fidelity and Putnam Investments. But neither camp has much to crow about.

The banks and brokers sprinkled across Manhattan have had a terrible run, despite the Facebook initial public offering windfall that just dropped in their laps. Smaller shops like Kaufman Brothers and Ticonderoga Securities are shutting their doors. Layoffs are rampant and bonuses shrunken. The likes of Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, among the leading purveyors of stocks, are trading below their book values.

Listed buy-side investment firms may not be so out of favor, but over the last five years their collective shares are still down 30 percent. With stocks still fighting to recover their pre-crisis highs, investors have understandably lost some faith in portfolio managers. Fidelity’s flagship Magellan Fund has shrunk to $15 billion of assets under management from over $100 billion at the turn of the century.

The circumstances take the fun out of jaw-boning over which side of the Street has the better paycheck-lifestyle balance. That means they’ll need to live more than usually vicariously through their football heroes. And the sporting stakes are high. New York teams have claimed seven major U.S. crowns, including five by the baseball Yankees and one by the Giants, over the last 20 years. Boston’s squads boast an equal number – three by the Patriots.

Absent much to cheer about in their own businesses, the buy-side and sell-side may just let their score be settled far away from their trading desks – on the gridiron in Indianapolis.

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