The Great Debate UK
Wall Street is once again aflutter with talk of impending job cuts. But jittery traders may have a few months more grace before the knives come out. With trading revenue falling, the pressure is growing for investment banks to lay off staff. But executives are still debating whether the current slump is a blip. Nobody wants to slash ranks right before a turnaround. The summer could be safer than many think.
It has happened before. Morgan Stanley scaled back its fixed-income operations after the 2008 crisis, leaving an already-damaged franchise unprepared for the bailout-fueled market recovery the following year. The firm has since hired 400 or so people in interest rates and other more liquid markets, but has not yet made much progress toward its goal of increasing revenue by around a third to 8 percent of the top 10 players' share.
Merrill Lynch also hit the panic button in 2008, perhaps more understandably given the tens of billions of dollars of losses its structured credit desks generated. But Tom Montag, who had just been hired from Goldman Sachs to run trading, extended the cull to the equities desks, too. The firm ended up trying to rehire scads of them months later, with varying success.
That was not the first time Merrill pulled the trigger too early on a cull. A decade ago then chief-executive-in-waiting Stan O'Neal cut thousands of staff soon after the Sept. 11 attacks. At the time the Thundering Herd was still trying to recover from its previous mass firing after the Russia and LTCM crisis in 1998.
from Reuters Investigates:
Leah Schnurr and Edward Krudy report today on retail investors fleeing the stock market. Will the Lost Decade create a Lost Generation of investors who avoid the market in a way not seen since the Great Depression?
Here's what one of the authors had to say about the story:
By Edward Krudy
The perception that the stock market is a place where the average person can share in the wealth of the nation has been a cornerstone of American society throughout the twentieth century. That's why we felt it was a big deal when small investors started to abandon the market.
U.S. midterm elections brought a degree of sweet payback for banks miffed about financial reform and President Barack Obama's populist rhetoric. Their campaign dollars helped fund huge Republican gains. But the new Tea Party-infused GOP will present as many challenges as opportunities.
Wall Street certainly made its displeasure clear to Democrats. During the 2008 campaign, Goldman Sachs -- through individuals and its political action committees -- gave 25 percent of campaign cash to Republicans. This time around, it was 59 percent. JPMorgan went from 40 percent to 52 percent and it was the same story, more or less, for Citigroup and Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
The financial industry isn’t the only one that needs reform. The Federal Reserve, which if Senator Christopher Dodd has his way will get even more authority over the banking system, needs a transformation of its own. After all, the most senior U.S. financial watchdog missed one of the biggest credit bubbles since its founding.
But while action is called for, it’s not obvious what sort. After all, mindset, not the rulebook, was the Fed’s main weakness during the credit bubble. It had enough legal authority and political independence to fight against financial excess, but chose not to.
The politicians who are trying to redesign the national financial landscape can’t legislate a new intellectual paradigm, but they can try to avoid three pitfalls.
First, beware of the monolithic mindset. The 12 regional Federal Reserve Banks, each with its own traditions and expertise, provide a healthy check on groupthink in Washington and New York.
Second, don’t let politicians micro-meddle. The Fed needs political guidance on how to balance its objectives, but it’s healthy to have tension between a strong central bank favoring financial stability and elected office-holders primarily wanting happy voters.
Finally, beware of regulatory capture. As it stands, the two best-informed members of the board of the New York Fed are chief executives of giant financial companies: Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan and Jeffrey Immelt of General Electric. That creates unacceptable potential for conflicts of interest.
Mr. Dodd’s plan, unveiled on Monday, gets it mostly right. The regional Feds will stay, which is a plus. Bankers will be kicked off their boards. That’s good, but the plan goes too far by also banning all former bankers, whose expertise could be useful.
The plan goes wrong by making the New York Fed president a political appointment, just like the members of the Fed’s central board of governors. Politicians aren’t ideal judges of who has the technical expertise needed to sit at the center of the financial markets.
Still, one more political appointment might not be too high a price to pay for a generally sensible reworking.
America's big banks aren't being broken up. Nor does it appear there will be strict new limits on their activities. And while lenders may have to cope with a new consumer regulator, its power and scope is evanescing daily. If there is any group from Wall Street deserving of fat bonuses this year, it's the industry's lobbyists in Washington.
The banks smartly recognized regulatory reform was inevitable after the greatest financial meltdown since the Great Depression. So rather than try to stop it, the industry helped mold and massage any changes into a shape it could tolerate. And early indications from Congress suggest they've been successful.
The collapse of Lehman Brothers on September 15, 2008, was the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history, sparking a crisis that paralysed the global financial system. But how significant was the bank’s collapse to the UK economy? What about other events such as Northern Rock? Professor Wood argues that the fall of Lehman was just one of many symptoms of the recession in this country.
Susanne Craig uses 2,200 words in today's Wall Street Journal that state the obvious: Goldman Sachs treats big clients better than small ones.
In any other industry, a company giving favourable treatment to its best customers would stand accused of nothing more than sound business practice.