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.

Currency Markets Jolted After Months of Calm

Currency Markets Jolted After Months of Calm

Volatility Rises as Investors Focus on Interest-Rate Divergence

By ANJANI TRIVEDI and IRA IOSEBASHVILI WSJ

After months of calm, currency markets have sprung back to life, as investors scramble to take advantage of the divergent paths taken by major central banks.

Bigger and more-frequent shifts in the foreign-exchange market are a welcome relief for investors, many of whom struggled to make profitable trades when currencies weren’t moving as dramatically.

Banks, whose currency desks execute trades on behalf of clients and companies, also see revenues grow when choppier markets drive up demand for their services.

“This definitely brightens my day,” said Chris Stanton, who oversees about $200 million at California-based Sunrise Capital Partners LLC. “It’s a welcome return to what feels like a freer market.”

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The size of daily trading swings across currencies has jumped 55% since hitting its lowest in at least a decade on July 31, according to Deutsche Bank AG. During that time, the dollar climbed to a six-year high against the yen, the euro fell below $1.30 for the first time since July 2013 and the pound tumbled to a 10-month low against the dollar. On Wednesday, the Swiss franc saw its biggest drop against the euro in six months.

Driving the price swings is a shift in policies at some of the world’s largest central banks. A burgeoning recovery in the U.S. has brought the Federal Reserve closer to raising rates, a move that would make the dollar more attractive to investors. At the same time, European and Japanese central banks are still trying to kickstart their economies and relying on policies such as bond buying that tend to drive down interest rates and reduce the value of a currency.

Implied volatility, which tracks the price of options used to protect against swings in exchange rates, has surged 45% in September to an eight-month high, according to Deutsche Bank. Higher implied volatility suggests money managers are buying options in anticipation of a more-active market.

Some money managers are buying the dollar ahead of next week’s Fed meeting, where policy makers could send firmer signals on their outlook for interest rates. Mr. Stanton’s fund is betting that the dollar will continue to strengthen against the yen and emerging-market currencies as the Fed gets closer to raising interest rates.

Citigroup Inc., C +1.11% the world’s largest currencies-dealing bank, on Monday said its markets revenue, which includes currency trading, is on track to be roughly flat in the third quarter compared with the same period in 2013, ending a decline that started a year ago.

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Until recently, unusually calm markets had left investors with fewer opportunities to trade and led to the demise of several large currency funds. FX Concepts LLC, founded in 1981 and considered a pioneer in currency investing, closed its doors last year after assets shriveled to $660 million from $14 billion before the financial crisis.

Currency volatility plummeted after the financial crisis, as the world’s biggest central banks cut interest rates to near zero. That gave traders little incentive to try and capture the difference in interest rates between various currencies, a key driver of activity in the foreign-exchange market.

That status quo has started to crack. Minutes from the Fed’s July meeting showed growing support for raising rates, spurring gains in the dollar when they were released in August. Earlier this month, the ECB surprised investors with a rate cut, bringing down the euro. Meantime, the pound tumbled on concerns over the repercussions from Scotland’s possible secession. On Wednesday, the Swiss National Bank said that it could introduce negative interest rates to halt the franc’s rise.

Trading bands of some major currencies have widened this summer, opening the door to bigger profits for investors. So far in September, the dollar is moving on average by 0.70 yen a day, the biggest range since February and up from 0.35 in July. Daily moves in the euro this month are averaging 0.79 U.S. cent, compared with 0.4 cent in July.

“Now, there are more opportunities to make money,” said Masafumi Takada, vice president of currency trading at BNP Paribas SA BNP.FR -0.39% in New York. Business volume at the bank’s New York currency-trading desk has quadrupled since July, Mr. Takada said.

Currency volatility can be a double-edged sword. Investors can profit by riding the dollar’s steady move higher against a variety of currencies. But a sudden reversal—such as a surge in the pound if Scotland votes against independence—could catch traders off guard. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. GS +1.39% took a loss on an options trade involving the dollar and yen about a year ago, people familiar with the matter said. Last summer, the yen’s months-long decline had stalled.

Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen attends a Board of Governors meeting at the Federal Reserve in Washington last week. Associated Press

Some traders believe the current bout of volatility may die down. The large moves seen this week are unusual, analysts say.

On Wednesday, the euro fell 0.2% to $1.2917, while the dollar rose 0.6% against the yen to 106.85. The pound rebounded, with the dollar falling 0.64% against the British currency.

“The question is whether or not this much of a jump [in volatility] is sensible,” said Geoff Kendrick, head of foreign-exchange and rates strategy in Asia at Morgan Stanley MS +1.24% in Hong Kong.

Still, many find it hard to imagine that the magnitude of the Fed’s policy shift won’t continue sending waves across currency markets.

“The dollar’s on a tear, and there is more of this to come,” said Kit Juckes, a strategist at Société Générale SA.

—Justin Baer and Saabira Chaudhuri contributed to this article.

Write to Anjani Trivedi at anjani.trivedi@wsj.com and Ira Iosebashvili at ira.iosebashvili@wsj.com

JP Morgan fined $920m and admits wrongdoing over ‘London Whale’

US’s biggest bank to pay penalties to US and UK regulators for ‘unsound practices’ relating to $6.2bn losses last year

JP Morgan has agreed to pay about $920m in penalties to US and UK regulators over the “unsafe and unsound practices” that led to its $6.2bn London Whale losses last year.

The US’s biggest bank will pay $300m to the US office of the comptroller of the currency, $200m to Federal Reserve, $200m to the securities and exchange commission (SEC) and £137.6m ($219.74m) to the UK’s financial conduct authority.

JP Morgan admitted wrongdoing as part of the settlement, an unusual step for a finance firm in the crosshairs of multiple legal actions.

“JP Morgan failed to keep watch over its traders as they overvalued a very complex portfolio to hide massive losses,” co-director of the SEC’s division of enforcement, George Canellos, said.

“While grappling with how to fix its internal control breakdowns, JP Morgan’s senior management broke a cardinal rule of corporate governance and deprived its board of critical information it needed to fully assess the company’s problems and determine whether accurate and reliable information was being disclosed to investors and regulators.”

In a statement the OCC blamed “unsafe and unsound practices related to derivatives trading activities conducted on behalf of the bank by the chief investment office (CIO)”, for the fine.

The OCC said its inquiries had found inadequate oversight and governance to protect the bank from material risk, inadequate risk management, inadequate control over pricing of trades, inadequate development and implementation of models used by the bank, and inadequate internal audit processes.

The US authorities are still pursuing JP Morgan. The Justice Department is pursuing criminal charges against some of the bankers responsible for the massive loss. In an indictment unsealed in federal court this week Javier Martin-Artajo, who oversaw trading strategy at the bank’s London office, and Julien Grout, a trader who worked for him, were charged with securities fraud, conspiracy, filing false books and records, wire fraud and making false filings to the SEC.

Grout’s lawyer said this week that his client was being “unjustly played as a pawn in the government’s attempt to settle its highly politicized case against JP Morgan Chase”.

The bank also faces another fine from the commodity futures trading commission which is still investigating whether the bank is guilty of market manipulation.

Jamie Dimon, the bank’s chairman and chief executive, initially dismissed the mounting losses at the bank’s London offices as a “tempest in a teapot”. In a statement Dimon said: “We have accepted responsibility and acknowledged our mistakes from the start, and we have learned from them and worked to fix them. Since these losses occurred, we have made numerous changes that have made us a stronger, smarter, better company.”

This week in a letter to staff he warned: “Unfortunately, we are all well aware of the news around the legal and regulatory issues facing our company, and in the coming weeks and months we need to be braced for more to come.”

The admission of wrongdoing is a major victory for the SEC. US judges in recent years have questioned fines where banks were allowed to neither admit nor deny wrongdoing. Judge Jed Rakoff blocked a 2011 SEC settlement with Citigroup because he said the lack of an admission of wrongdoing made it impossible for him to determine whether the fine was “fair, reasonable, adequate and in the public interest”.

 

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