Gulf Today

Listings boom, trading frenzy fuel investment banks’ profits

Revenues for the 12 largest investment banks, tracked in research firm Coalition Greenwich’s index, rose to $194 billion, the highest annual total since the survey began

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A surge in blank-cheque investment vehicle fundraisin­g and frantic pandemic-related trading in 2020 boosted investment banks’ income by a record 28% from the year before, a report showed on Friday.

Revenues for the 12 largest investment banks tracked in research firm Coalition Greenwich’s index rose to $194 billion, the highest annual total for the industry since the survey began around a decade ago.

The trading bonanza showed how Wall Street and European banks benefited as the COVID-19 pandemic sparked global government and central bank action, upending asset prices and sending investors scrambling for safe havens. Meanwhile, Greensill Bank said it had immediatel­y complied with a request by Germany’s financial regulator Bafin ater it raised concerns late last year over accounting practices.

“In late 2020 and early 2021 the Bafin advised that they did not agree with the way the assets were classified by Greensill Bank and directed that they be changed,” Greensill said in a statement.

“In accordance with Bafin’s request, Greensill Bank immediatel­y complied and changed the way the assets are classified.”

Later in the year banks feasted on the craze for so-called blank-cheque or special purpose acquisitio­n companies (SPACS), which raise money to acquire another company without specifying which one to their investors in advance.

Just one part of a listings boom which also included more traditiona­l initial public offerings (IPOS), SPACS raised a record $82 billion last year and the trend has been gathering steam in 2021, boosting fee income for banks organising the deals.

Fixed income, currency and commoditie­s (FICC) income rose 41% year-on-year, the Coalition report said, with commoditie­s revenues hiting record levels as investors sought safe havens in precious metals and as oil prices surged later in the year.

Central Bank interventi­on to stimulate flatlining pandemic-hit economies also drove strong trading in credit products, except for more complex structured debt which risk-averse investors largely shunned.

In equities, derivative­s volumes hit their highest level in a decade, Coalition said, but again more complex structured products underperfo­rmed as companies axing dividends in the first half of the year hit derivative­s tied to such payouts.

Despite the bumper year, frontline revenuepro­ducing bankers faced job losses, Coalition said, with positions down 1% from a year earlier to 48,700 as banks cut structured equity derivative­s jobs in particular on waning demand.

That meant revenue per employee rose across all business lines, with the trend most evident in FICC where the measure rose to some $6 million, up 44% from 2019. Banks kept bonus increases modest even as income soared, mindful of being seen to splurge too much amid an economic crisis and looking ahead to likely tougher times this year.

Coalition’s index tracks Bank of America , Barclays , BNP Paribas, Citigroup, Credit Suisse , Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, HSBC , JPMORgan, Morgan Stanley, Societe Generale and UBS.

Emerging market central banks delivered a net two interest rate cuts in February though signs are increasing that an easing cycle which started in 2019 might be coming to an end.

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The Greensill Bank building in Bremen, Germany.
Reuters ↑ The Greensill Bank building in Bremen, Germany.

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