On the Eve of Brexit, U.S. Banks Are Set to Conquer Europe

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■ December 13, 2018, 12:01 AM EST

On the Eve of Brexit, U.S. Banks Are Set to Conquer Europe

● Exit Britain. Enter Wall Street.

By Edward Robinson, Lananh Nguyen and Yalman Onaran

With Donald Trump rattling the international order Washington built after World War II, engagement is out and isolationism is in. Yet Wall Street, an expression of American influence every bit as defining as Hollywood or Silicon Valley, apparently didn’t get the memo.

European finance—whipsawed by debt crises and political upheaval since the financial crash of 2008 and now on the verge of the Brexit trauma—is seeing just how internationalist American banks are. U.S. financial powerhouses such as JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. have been running up the score on their European rivals, dominating investment banking overseas as never before.

The U.K.’s separation from the European Union will cleave Europe’s financial industry in half. London’s diminished role as the financial gateway to the Continent may prevent Europe from matching the U.S. with its own deep, seamless flow of capital. Brian Moynihan, the chairman and chief executive officer of Bank of America Corp., calls this effect “disaggregating liquidity.”

“That’s not going to be good for the economy,” Moynihan said at an industry conference in Boston in November. “It puts them back about 10 to 15 years in the possible development of capital markets, which is critical to a country’s success. At the end of the day, what makes the U.S. powerful is our capital markets and all the capital we can bring to the situation. That just allows us to develop wealth faster for people, and companies can access the capital a lot faster.”

The result: Wall Street’s deepening penetration into the EU. Bank of America is turning a post office in the center of Paris into a trading floor for hundreds. Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and JPMorgan are shifting capital and staff to Frankfurt, Paris, and possibly other locales. JPMorgan Chase Chairman Jamie Dimon and his peers are increasingly signing up clients for work at the expense of homegrown rivals such as Deutsche Bank AG and BNP Paribas SA. In January, for instance, JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley, and Lazard advised Belgian drugmaker Ablynx and Paris-based Sanofi on a $4 billion takeover that featured no involvement by a European investment bank. This year, five of the six top institutions handling European transactions worth $500 million to $6 billion were American, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

It’s possible the contest between U.S. and European investment banking will shift again. In the precrisis decade, European institutions were making inroads into the new world. UBS Group AG built an airplane hangar-size trading floor in Stamford, Conn., and Barclays, Deutsche Bank, and Credit Suisse elbowed into the upper ranks for securities underwriting and mergers advice in the U.S. In 2010, top European banks raked in 51 percent of global revenue from trading equities, compared with 44 percent for American lenders.

The UBS trading floor is no more, and Deutsche Bank is the latest European bank retreating from the U.S. In equities trading this year, Wall Street commands 60 percent of global revenue, compared with Europe’s 34 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The top five U.S. investment banks earned $75 billion in the first nine months of 2018, a quarter more than the same period last year. In contrast, Deutsche Bank, which has been hobbled by CEO turnover and a round of money laundering cases, saw its shares fall to record lows in December. BNP Paribas, France’s No. 1 bank, jolted investors in the third quarter when it reported a 15 percent drop in revenue in fixed income, long considered one of its strongest businesses.

Even before Brexit, Europe struggled to overcome obstacles that would make its lenders more competitive. Brussels’ bid to unify its member states’ banking industries, for example, has foundered. “The fact that European politicians failed to produce banking union is a travesty,” says Barrington Pitt Miller, a portfolio manager with Janus Henderson Group Plc, which holds big stakes in European lenders. “If you’re a U.S. capital markets bank, you are looking at a free runway to step in and take market share.”

As if that weren’t enough, Dimon and Moynihan and their fellow Americans are riding a tailwind courtesy of the U.S. Federal Reserve—a surge in lending revenue. Over the last eight quarters, the Fed has lifted its benchmark interest rate to a range from 2 percent to 2.25 percent, which means banks can charge more for loans. The European Central Bank, nursing a fragile regional economy, has stood fast with a subzero rate. “There’s strong lending growth coming from companies in the U.S.,” says Jan Schildbach, head of research on banking, financial markets, and regulation at Deutsche Bank. “In Europe there’s only modest lending volume growth after years of contraction.”

Wall Street is doing well in Asia, too. U.S. banks take the five top spots in Asian equities underwriting, according to Bloomberg data. In the global business of trading securities, only one Asian lender, Japan’s Nomura Bank Holdings Inc., makes the top 16, with just a 1.7 percent share. In mergers and acquisitions, Asian institutions tend to show up in deals on their own turf. The Bank of China Ltd., for example, leads yuan bond underwriting.

It’s tempting for European banks to conflate the financial industry with the other sources of U.S. economic influence. The dollar continues to be the world’s reserve currency, and the U.S. Department of the Treasury has stepped up its role as a global financial cop—whether on trade with pariah states, policing money laundering, or enforcing tax laws. Foreign bankers and lawmakers bristle at what they call the “weaponization” of the dollar—how its dominance makes it harder for other countries to borrow and trade—and fear that Washington is indirectly giving Wall Street a boost by fining overseas banks billions of dollars.

The EU is starting to push back. Brussels was dismayed by the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the 2015 international agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program and pursuit of penalties for companies that have renewed doing business with the oil-rich country. So Brussels is trying to cook up a way to get around the dollar-denominated economy to preserve commercial links with Iran.

Indeed, Trump’s willingness to undo long-standing accords on trade, security, and climate change has emboldened rival powers to challenge Washington’s reach. On Dec. 5 the EU unveiled an initiative to strengthen the euro as an alternative to the dollar by calling for companies in the financial and energy industries to denominate more trading contracts in the single currency. China is in its fifth year of rolling out its Belt and Road Initiative, a program worth hundreds of billions of dollars designed to project Beijing’s influence through myriad infrastructure and commercial ventures in dozens of nations in Africa, Asia, and Europe. Russian President Vladimir Putin, for his part, has called on nations to use their own currencies for international trade to blunt U.S. economic power.

Yet when it comes to Wall Street, the great game of geopolitics may ultimately amount to little more than noise. The industry, of course, has only one lodestar: money. And if a tectonic shift such as Brexit creates new opportunities, you can bet America’s big banks will grab a bigger share of business. Still, some fret about what will happen when the cycle turns. “The banks are never going to be terribly good at identifying what would cause them to fail,” says Paul Tucker, chairman of the Systemic Risk Council and former deputy governor of the Bank of England. “There will be a recession at some point, and people will lose money. The economy relies on these banks, and so they need to be able to withstand a lot of stress.”

Theoretical fears of some future downturn aren’t likely to put off Wall Street from making money today. And in the pursuit of profit, America’s global financial profile will grow only more prominent. “That old adage that the business of America is business is still true,” says Curtis Chin, the former U.S. ambassador to the Asian Development Bank and now an Asian Fellow at the Milken Institute. “Soft power comes in many forms.” —With Chitra Somayaji

To contact the authors of this story:
Edward Robinson in London at edrobinson@bloomberg.net
Lananh Nguyen in New York at lnguyen35@bloomberg.net
Yalman Onaran in New York at yonaran@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Howard Chua-Eoan at hchuaeoan@bloomberg.net
James Hertling

BOTTOM LINE – American banks are establishing global hegemony as European institutions retrench even before London loses its place as the world’s financial capital.

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PwC faces 3 major trials that threaten its business

Philip Merrill’s notes:

1) Do Auditors need to be seasoned professionals in the businesses they audit?

2) Or, CPA’s that have to take the customers word for accuracy in financial statement representation including notes.

By Francine McKenna

Published: Aug 15, 2016 12:32 p.m. ET

The Big Four global audit firms go to court all the time but are rarely put on trial.

PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, the U.S. member of the global professional-services giant, is currently facing not one, not two, but three significant trials for allegedly negligent audits. An unfavorable verdict in the trial currently playing out in a Florida state court could inflict a significant monetary wound. That, combined with a possible unfavorable judgment in another trial scheduled for federal court in Alabama in February of 2017, and a third in a Manhattan federal court within the next year, may be fatal.

The case against PwC brought by the Taylor Bean and Whitaker bankruptcy trustee is quite unusual, said Tom Rohback, an attorney with Axinn Veltrop & Harkrider. That’s because it is one of the few cases from the credit crisis seeking to hold auditors responsible for crisis-era losses to actually go to trial.

“Beyond the $5.5 billion sought, the case is unusual because the plaintiff is the trustee of the entity that committed the fraud and is suing not its own audit firm but the audit firm of the institution it defrauded,” he said. “

Settlements preferred

In the U.S. the Big Four audit firms have, in recent history, almost always settled because of the fear that one catastrophic jury verdict could shut them down for good. In addition, trials show the public just how often auditors fail to detect fraud. Settlements prevent the public from hearing that in open court and typically put partners’ pretrial testimony under confidential court seal forever.

‘The trial has the potential to influence public perception of auditors, as well as strategies used by the plaintiff lawyers that try cases against them, regardless of the eventual verdict.’

Tom Rohback, Axinn Veltrop and Harkrider

The bankruptcy trustee for Taylor Bean & Whitaker Mortgage Corp., once the 12th-largest U.S. mortgage lender, sued PwC for $5.5 billion in damages in 2012 after the bank went bankrupt in August 2009. Federal regulators, not the bank’s auditor, Deloitte, uncovered a $3 billion fraud involving fake mortgage assets. The bankruptcy trustee for Taylor, however, alleges that PwC was negligent in not spotting the fraud from its perch as auditor of Colonial Bank, which bought the allegedly fake mortgages that Taylor Bean had originated and that made Taylor Bean’s losses worse.

Beth Tanis, the lead attorney for PwC from the firm King & Spalding, issued a statement at the beginning of the trial: “PricewaterhouseCoopers did not audit or perform any other services for Taylor Bean. With regard to the services performed for Colonial Bancgroup, one of the targets of Taylor Bean’s fraud, PricewaterhouseCoopers did its job,” said Tanis. “As the professional audit standards make clear, even a properly designed and executed audit may not detect fraud, especially in instances when there is collusion, fabrication of documents, and the override of controls, as there was at Colonial Bank. We are confident that a jury will understand the applicable rules and standards in this case and decide accordingly.”

A spokeswoman for PwC declined to provide further comment.

Six Taylor Bean executives went to jail for their roles in the fraud. The bank’s former chairman, Lee Farkas, was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Taylor Bean auditor Deloitte settled with the trustee for an undisclosed amount in 2013.

The bankruptcy route

Colonial Bank, a Montgomery, Ala., institution with $25 billion in assets, also filed for bankruptcy in 2009. The Colonial Bank bankruptcy trustee and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. brought a lawsuit in 2012 against PwC for negligence as the auditor of Colonial Bank, claiming $1 billion in damages. That case is scheduled to go to trial in February.

The FDIC’s suit was its first against an auditor for a financial-crisis-era bank fraud or failure. Crowe Horwath LLP, Colonial’s outsourced internal audit firm, is also named in the Colonial suit. (Remember Arthur Andersen internal and external auditor for Enron?)

Tanis, in her opening statement at the trial on Aug. 9, said that no one at Taylor Bean relied on PwC’s audit of Colonial Bank, even though Colonial was Taylor Bean’s biggest mortgage buyer.

“There will be no document showing you that these directors or anybody else at Taylor Bean ever received these Pricewaterhouse audit reports, actually read these Pricewaterhouse audit reports and relied on them,” she said.

Largest Banking Regulatory Fines (2008 – 2015)

Bank

Date

Fine Amount

Description

Bank of America

August 2014

$16,650,000,000

Settlement to resolve allegations of misselling mortgage-backed securities. The … Show More

Bank of America

February 2012

$11,820

Part of the National Mortgage Settlement; $8.6bn paid as relief to borrowers, $3 … Show More

Bank of America

January 2013

$11,600

Settlement resolving repurchase requests of faulty mortgage sales. Bank agreed t … Show More

Bank of America

March 2014

$9,330

Settled charges of misleading investors over mortgage backed securities.

Citigroup

July 2014

$7,000,000,000

Settled charges of misleading investors over mortgage backed securities. $4bn pa … Show More

JPMorgan Chase

November 2013

$13,000,000,000

Part of $13bn settlement; $4bn paid as relief to consumers, $2bn paid as civil penalty

Wells Fargo

February 2012

$5,350

Part of the National Mortgage Settlement; $4.3bn paid as relief to borrowers, $1 … Show More

JPMorgan Chase

February 2012

$5,290

Part of the National Mortgage Settlement; $4.2bn paid as relief to borrowers and … Show More

JPMorgan Chase

October 2013

$4,000

Part of $13bn settlement; settles federal and state claims by FHFA.

JPMorgan Chase

October 2013

$4,000

Settlement over securities laws violations in connection with mortgage-backed se … Show More

Bank

Date

Fine Amount

Description

Data collected from the Financial Times on May 20, 2015.

See more details ›

Taylor Bean’s employees, customers and creditors, who all lost something when the firm went bankrupt, were relying on Colonial Bank to operate as an honest business partner that was accurately reflecting its financial obligations to Taylor Bean, a point emphasized by Steve Thomas, the attorney for the Taylor Bean trustee, in his opening statement on Tuesday.

Thomas told the jury that PricewaterhouseCooper’s failure mattered, because many people were counting on it to do its job. “PwC was lending credibility to Colonial’s financial statements. PwC’s failure mattered because Taylor Bean and Whitaker, and others, relied on PwC to do its job,” he said.

‘PwC was lending credibility to Colonial’s financial statements. PwC’s failure mattered because Taylor Bean and Whitaker, and others, relied on PwC to do its job.’

Steve Thomas, attorney for Taylor Bean trustee

PwC and the other Big Four accounting firms all had major clients that failed, were bailed out or were effectively nationalized during the crisis. None of those cases went to trial. Ernst & Young LLP paid $99 million to investors and $10 million to the New York attorney general’s office for its role as auditor of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. KPMG settled its exposures early, and within a week of each other in 2010 settled for an undisclosed amount for its audit of New Century, another big mortgage originator, and paid $24 million for its audits of Countrywide Bank, which was distressed when it was sold to Bank of America BAC, +0.74% .

Deloitte settled its exposure as auditor of Bear Stearns for $19.9 million. Bear Stearns was bought for a relative pittance by J.P. Morgan JPM, +0.61%  during the crisis. Deloitte was also the auditor of Washington Mutual and contributed $18.5 million to a settlement with investors for its negligent audits. Deloitte went on to earn hundreds of millions of dollars reviewing J.P. Morgan’s exposure to foreclosure fraud claims for Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual mortgages it inherited as part of those purchases.

The litigation hit

Those settlements pale in comparison to the total of $6.5 billion that Taylor Bean and Colonial Bank trustees are looking for from PwC. On Aug. 5 U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero in Manhattan rejected PwC’s request to dismiss MF Global’s lawsuit alleging professional malpractice that contributed to the October 2011 bankruptcy of the brokerage firm once run by former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine. That suit is seeking $1 billion in damages, bringing the total potential claims PwC is facing over a very short period to $7.5 billion.

Jim Peterson, a former in-house attorney for Arthur Andersen and the author of the book “Count Down: The Past, Present and Uncertain Future of the Big Four Accounting Firms,” has periodically asked the question on his blog: “How big is the ‘worst case’ litigation hit that would disintegrate one of the surviving Big Four?”

Back in September 2006, a report by the consulting firm London Economics to the EU markets commissioner modeled the collapse of a Big Four partnership in the U.K. That model quantified the level, according to Peterson, “of personal sacrifice, beyond which the owner-partners would lose confidence, withdraw their loyalty and their capital, and vote with their feet.”

Peterson’s analysis concluded that critical numbers of partners would defect and put a firm into a death spiral, if they faced a partner-income-distribution reduction of 15% to 20% that extended over three or four years. Peterson extended the figures to the global level to calculate breakup figures for the Big Four. That brought the number down from an optimistic maximum of about $7 billion to about $3 billion.

However, global numbers assume that a Big Four network under deadly financial threat could hold it together and count on the support of its member firms and partners around the world. But that’s not what happened to Arthur Andersen after the bankruptcy of client Enron and an indictment for obstruction of justice in 2001. Instead, Andersen’s non-U.S. member firms flew the coop in 2002, and the firm itself was forced to fold.

Based on the experience of Arthur Andersen, it is unlikely, Peterson told MarketWatch, that PwC’s non-U.S. member firms would pitch in to pay a U.S.-based catastrophic court judgment or a series of them. Peterson’s most recent update of his tipping-point calculation, completed in early 2015, assumes the U.S. firm is left to pay its own way out, as was Andersen’s U.S. firm. The worst-case tipping points for the U.S. practices shrinks from the $3 billion global number down to $900 million for the most financially vulnerable of the four firms.

These numbers matter, according to Peterson, because the loss of another Big Four firm would throw the entire system into chaos.“There is no contingency plan or readiness among the three survivors to stay in an even more risky business or take on the failed firm’s risky clients or outstanding litigation claims,” he said.

The Petrobras angle

The three lawsuits against PwC that are on trial or going to trial in the next year all name only the U.S. firm as a defendant. Another large case names PwC’s Brazil member firm for its allegedly negligent audits and failure to detect a multibillion-dollar bribery and corruption fraud at the state-sponsored oil company Petrobras.

Those plaintiffs, which include the Bill Gates Foundation, could decide to name PwC U.S. as a defendant or eventually require the U.S. firm to ante up to pay a verdict that would otherwise knock out the Brazilian firm, a key cog in its service network for multinational clients.

MarketWatch asked Rohback why PwC would choose to go to trial given the stakes. “Oh, they probably didn’t choose to try the case. They just haven’t hit on a settlement number they can stomach yet,” he said.

PwC has few options at this point, Rohback said. “There’s still time to settle, and they could win it. If they lose, they can ask the judge for a stay in enforcing any judgment until an appeal can be heard.”

Florida law prohibits judgments that would bankrupt a defendant. PwC would probably be reluctant to go to court and open its books to prove it was too poor to pay a judgment. However, in a previous case against an audit firm in Florida tried by Taylor Bean trustee attorney Thomas, the court allowed audit-firm partners to be paid “profits” each year before considering claims of any parties damaged by the firm’s frauds or gross negligence.

Audit firms have no duty to reserve for or disclose serious legal contingencies, since they are partnerships. Thomas had to file a motion to force discovery because he suspected that while the case was under appeal “assets have been or are being dissipated or diverted while such a stay is in place.”

Francine McKenna

Francine McKenna is a MarketWatch reporter based in Washington.

Email Francine at fmckenna@marketwatch.com

New From Credit Suisse: Bonds for Self-Inflicted Catastrophes

Sagacious LLC will help customize a similar program to save op risk regulatory capital at your institution. 

By ANUPREETA DAS and LESLIE SCISM
May 16, 2016 1:21 p.m. ET WSJ

Credit Suisse Group AG is going to give it a try in the bond market. The bank plans as early as this week to launch unusual new securities that would pay investors relatively high interest rates. The catch is Credit Suisse could take their principal if incidents like rogue trading, information-technology breakdowns or even accounting errors lead to massive losses for the bank, people familiar with the offering said.

The deal is a first-of-its-kind twist on the “catastrophe bonds” that insurers have used for years to lay off the risk of natural disasters like hurricanes. Credit Suisse’s offering covers self-inflicted disasters as well as external events and has been marketed to hedge funds and other big investors.

The insurance feature of the bonds would be triggered if Credit Suisse’s annual operational risk-related losses cross $3.5 billion. Buyers have a level of comfort, however, because it’s a “second-event” bond. The most any single event could contribute to the trigger is $3 billion, meaning it would take more than one event to cross the threshold. The odds of that are remote: Credit Suisse has put them at roughly 1 in 500, the people said.

A Credit Suisse spokeswoman declined to comment.
The appetite for such offerings in the capital markets, as persistently low interest rates send investors searching for higher yields, is encouraging Wall Street companies to test new uses for the structure.

MORE

Heard on the Street: Credit Suisse Takes Out Insurance on Itself
Insurance-industry executives said that they haven’t previously seen a bank attempting to tap capital markets to cover this type of risk. The move has its roots in regulation. Under European bank rules, banks must calculate operational risk and may use insurance products as part of meeting their capital requirements, according to industry participants.

In general, operational risk is the possibility of losses resulting from insufficient internal controls, errant systems or rogue employees. The Credit Suisse offering doesn’t cover market losses from trading that is authorized by the bank, some of the people familiar with the matter said.

Paul Schultz, chief executive of the Aon Securities unit of global insurance brokerage Aon PLC, said an offering like Credit Suisse’s reflects “growing investor sophistication on the underwriting side and a general view that to continue to grow the asset class, investors are going to have to expand from simply writing property risk.”

Zurich-based Credit Suisse, via a Bermuda company called Operational Re, plans to issue a five-year bond of up to 630 million Swiss francs ($646 million) to qualified institutional buyers such as hedge funds, asset managers and firms that pool together capital from pension funds. The bonds are part of a planned package that includes an insurance policy of up to 700 million francs issued by Zurich Insurance Group. Most of the cost of any claim would be paid for by the bonds. The size of the bond offering and the policy limits ultimately will be determined by investor interest, the people said. A spokeswoman for Zurich said the company’s policy is not to comment on current or potential commercial relationships.

The coupon is expected to be in the “mid-single digits,” one of the people said—higher than what Credit Suisse was initially planning, in order to entice investors to buy the novel security.

Credit Suisse last week reported a first-quarter net loss of 302 million francs, compared with a profit of 1.05 billion francs in the same period last year. The bank’s new chief executive, Tidjane Thiam, has been retooling the bank away from its investment-banking business toward its more stable wealth-management unit.

European banks have long used insurance products to meet capital requirements set by regulators or to unload risk from their balance sheets. Before the financial crisis, giant insurer American International Group Inc. sold financial derivatives known as credit-default swaps to major European banks as insurance against losses in their holdings of subprime mortgage assets. AIG’s near collapse in 2008 in the wake of the housing-bubble burst was tied to the massive volume of credit-default swaps it had sold.

As for Credit Suisse’s new bond, the bank can’t call on the money to cover regulatory liabilities or government fines, the people said. Losses from rogue trading, which have hobbled large banks such as Société Générale and UBS Group AG in recent years, could be covered by the insurance provided by the bond, but any fines stemming from it wouldn’t be, they said.

Write to Anupreeta Das at anupreeta.das@wsj.com and Leslie Scism at leslie.scism@wsj.com

Sagacious LLC can customize a disaster bond for your institution.

JPMorgan’s Dimon Says Violent Moves in Treasuries Are Possible – Bloomberg Business

Jamie Dimon, chairman and chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase CEO says the Treasury market is one thing he worries about

Comments aren’t a prediction, just a possibility, Dimon says

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Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s chief executive officer, said the bank will be prepared for the possibility that Treasury prices move violently when interest rates rise.
“The one thing I do worry a little bit about, by the way, is Treasuries,” Dimon said Friday at a conference in New York sponsored by Barclays Plc. “Interest rates have been so low, for so long,” he said, adding that some traders and their managers have never experienced a rising interest-rate environment.
The U.S. banking system is much safer now because of higher capital and business diversification, said Dimon, 59, responding to a question about whether the next U.S. credit downturn would come from banks or non-banks. In April, he called volatility in the Treasury market in late 2014 a “warning shot” to investors.
“So I wouldn’t be shocked to see 10-year Treasuries, when rates are going up, people change their mind, they change direction, that they will be violently volatile and go up much faster than people think,” Dimon said. “I’m not predicting that. I’m simply saying in the back of my mind, I think that’s a possibility.”
His comments followed the biggest single-day rally in six years for two-year Treasuries. After the Federal Reserve announced Thursday it would keep interest rates near zero, yields on the policy-sensitive note dropped by 13 basis points, the steepest decline since the central bank announced it would expand its bond-buying program in March 2009. The rate on 10-year notes fell 10 basis points to 2.19 percent.
JPMorgan has “about the same” third-quarter trading-revenue trends as other banks that have disclosed expectations at the conference, Dimon said. Executives from Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc. have said they probably will report a 5 percent drop in third-quarter trading revenue.
“September is still to go, so who knows,” Dimon said. “I think people are massively over-focused on those numbers.”
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James Dimon

JPMorgan Chase & Co

Interest Rates

New York

Barclays PLC

The $9 Trillion Short That May Send the Dollar Even Higher

The $9 Trillion Short That May Send the Dollar Even Higher

2:15

April 13 — Bloomberg’s Tom Keene examines a chart on the euro. Langer Research’s Gary Langer also speaks on “Bloomberg Surveillance.” 

Investors speculating the dollar rally is fizzling out may be overlooking trillions of reasons why it will keep on going.

There’s pent-up demand for the U.S. currency that will underpin years of appreciation because the world is “structurally short” the dollar, according to investor and former International Monetary Fund economist Stephen Jen.

Sovereign and corporate borrowers outside America owe a record $9 trillion in the U.S. currency, much of which will need repaying in coming years, data from the Bank for International Settlements show.

In addition, central banks that had reduced their holdings of the greenback are starting to reverse course, creating more demand. The dollar’s share of global foreign reserves shrank to a record 60 percent in 2011 from 73 percent a decade earlier, though it’s since climbed back to 63 percent.

So, the short-term ebbs and flows caused by changes in Federal Reserve policy or economic data releases may be overwhelmed by these larger forces combining to fuel more appreciation, according to Jen, the London-based co-founder of SLJ Macro Partners LLP and the former head of currency research at Morgan Stanley.

Dollar ‘Power’

“Short-covering will continue to power the dollar higher,” said Jen, who predicts a 9 percent advance in the next three months to 96 cents per euro. “The dollar’s strength is not just about cyclical factors such as growth. The recent consolidation will likely prove to be temporary.”

Most strategists and investors agree on the reasons for the dollar’s advance versus each of its major counterparts during the past year: the prospect of higher U.S. interest rates while other nations are loosening policy.

Bloomberg’s Dollar Spot Index, which tracks the U.S. currency against 10 major peers including the euro and yen, has surged 20 percent since the middle of 2014. The gains stalled recently, sending the index down more than 3 percent in the three weeks through April 3, as Fed officials tempered investors’ expectations about the pace of rate increases.

Top Forecaster

Jen isn’t the only one who thinks short-dollar positions will cause the rally to extend.

Chris Turner, head of foreign-exchange strategy at ING Groep NV, sees the dollar surging through parity with the European currency by mid-year, from $1.0586 per euro as of 12:11 p.m. in New York. He said gains will be spurred by bonds from Germany to Ireland yielding below zero.

“Central banks are re-accumulating their dollar reserves and low, or negative, bond yields in the euro zone will probably speed up that trend,” said London-based Turner, whose bank topped Bloomberg’s rankings for the most accurate currency forecasts in the past two quarters.

Not everyone thinks the dollar will keep on climbing. David Bloom, global head of currency strategy at HSBC Holdings Plc, said in a report that the effects of policy divergence have run their course and that the greenback rally “will stall as the market demands: tell me something I don’t know.”

Billionaire Bill Gross of Janus Capital Group Inc. has meanwhile been betting on U.S. Treasuries against German bunds on the basis that the spread between American and European interest rates will narrow. He called his bet “the trade of the year.”

Rates ‘Dichotomy’

Adrian Lee, whose eponymous investment company oversees more than $5 billion, does expect the dollar to keep strengthening and points to monetary policy as the biggest driver as the tightening bias of the Fed contrasts with a European Central Bank that’s expanding the money supply.

“The dichotomy between Europe and the U.S. is most interesting,” said Lee, chief investment officer at Adrian Lee & Partners, which has offices in London and Dublin. “If you ask where our strategy would be in a year’s time, we can easily have a forecast of the euro well below $1.”

He also sees another structural factor that’s underpinning the dollar: the U.S.’s shrinking current-account deficit.

The decline in oil prices — even with the shale-gas revolution, the nation is still an importer — has helped the U.S. reduce its trade shortfall to 2.3 percent of gross domestic product, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s down from a record 5.9 percent in 2006.

For Jen, the rise in dollar-denominated debt across the globe is key. The $9 trillion owed by borrowers outside the U.S. has surged from $6 trillion at the end of 2008 — when the Fed cut its benchmark interest rate to near zero, making it cheaper to issue in the currency.

Repaying Debt

Russian gas producer OAO Gazprom, Spanish phone company Telefonica SA and ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steelmaker, have each raised about $12 billion in the U.S. currency since then, data compiled by Bloomberg show. France and Sweden are among the biggest sovereign issuers, borrowing more than $100 billion between the two.

Some of that will need to be repaid even if the remainder will be rolled over. And debt that will eventually be refinanced needs servicing in the meantime.

“After years of accumulating a huge amount of debt in dollars, borrowers will need to figure out how to repay” given the currency’s recent gains, Jen said. “People will either repay early or start hedging actively. There’ll be huge demand for the dollar that is much more than what’s consistent with growth or interest-rate differentials.”