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商业 - 金融

新规公布:高盛、摩根士丹利走到丁字路口

Cyrus Sanati 2011年10月14日

高盛和摩根士丹利花了两年时间才想清楚后金融危机时代的自身定位问题:是做投资银行,还是银行控股公司?然而,沃尔克法则可能再次改变它们的决定。

    图片来源:维基百科

    高盛(Goldman Sachs)和摩根士丹利(Morgan Stanley)正面临前所未有的压力。由于资本市场风声鹤唳、交易环境糟糕,普遍预计这两家金融公司近期将公布疲弱的三季度业绩。花旗集团(Citigroup)分析师预计高盛将公布三季度亏损——果真如此,那将是高盛上市以来的第二个亏损季度。

    然而,三季度业绩还不是这两家公司最大的麻烦。未来几个月将出台的新法规很可能会砍掉它们大块的利润——特别是争议不断的沃尔克法则(Volcker Rule)。尽管沃尔克法则的细节仍在讨论中,但这项法规对两家公司净利润的长期影响可能是破坏性的。如果这两家银行找不出法律的空子,保住赚钱的经纪交易业务,它们未来将面临一个无奈的选择——保留,还是放弃银行控股公司的身份。

    沃尔克法则首份草案周二向公众发布。草案长达298页,对华尔街最神秘的一个领域提出了很多问题和评论。

    沃尔克法则2009年由美国总统奥巴马(Obama)提出,目的是降低金融系统风险。这项法则是多德-弗兰克(Dodd-Frank)金融监管法案的一部分,将削弱银行以自有资金进行交易和投资的能力,以保护储户免受高额的交易损失。法则禁止银行持有和投资私募股权基金和对冲基金,并强制要求银行压缩大量经纪交易业务。

    法则对大型银行的影响很大。法则要求它们关闭各类高毛利中心,专注于相对安全和低毛利的业务。法则还禁止银行参与可能导致银行和客户间“严重利益冲突”的交易计划,以有效遏制银行提前下单或违背客户指令反向操作的行为。虽然并购、企业上市等核心投行业务安然无恙,但所有交易类业务都可能被取缔。

    草案初稿规定了例外情况,允许银行保留做市活动,以便帮助客户对冲头寸风险,以及维持市场流动性。但要参与做市活动,银行必须买卖证券,承担一定的风险。很多人担心银行会将所有的自营交易活动都归为做市活动,以维持业务正常运行。

    但是政府很清楚这个风险,而且高度重视这个问题。事实上,草案大部分笔墨都着眼于此。一项提议法规将要求银行公布所有用于做市活动的交易计划。它要求银行证明没有参与证券短期转售,也没有通过套利或对冲交易从任何实际或短期价格波动中获利。

    那么,关键就在于执行了。监管机构不一定要抓住每一笔伪装为做市活动的自营交易。几次违规受到高额罚款,就会给企业利润率造成很大压力,迫使这些公司最终执行法律精神。

    沃尔克法则的审议对银行业来说来得很不是时候。当前,世界经济充满了不确定性,美国银行业的高毛利资本市场活动陷入了困境。第三季度全球IPO募资额同比减少49%,全球宣布的并购交易数量同比减少了19%。数据服务提供商Dealogic的数据显示,第三季度全球投行营收预计环比将减少37%。

    Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are facing headwinds like never before. The two financial firms are widely expected to post weak third quarter earnings in the coming days thanks to the spooked capital markets and sour trading environment. Analysts at Citigroup now predict Goldman will report a loss for the quarter -- it would be only its second quarter in the red since becoming a public company.

    But the third quarter should be the least of their worries. New regulations are set to roll out in the coming months that threaten to kill off a large chunk of their profits -- most notably, the controversial Volcker Rule. While the specifics of the Volcker Rule are still being debated, the long-term impact on the firms' bottom line could be quite damaging. If the banks fail to engineer satisfactory loopholes to protect their profitable broker-dealer operations, they will then face a daunting choice – to be or not to be a bank holding company.

    The first draft of the proposed Volcker Rule was released to the public on Tuesday. At 298 pages, the draft rule is full of questions and comments regarding one of the most esoteric corners of Wall Street.

    The Volcker Rule was proposed by President Obama in 2009 as a way of mitigating risk in the financial system. The rule, which was folded into the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory bill, would limit a bank's ability to trade and invest its own capital in an effort to shield their depositors from potentially large trading losses. Banks would be barred from owning and investing in private equity and hedge funds and would be forced to curtail many of their broker-dealer operations.

    The implications are significant for the large banks. The rule forces them to shut down a variety of high margin profit centers and focus on safer, lower margin businesses. It would also bar them from engaging in trading schemes that would be considered to be a "material conflict of interest," between the bank and its customers, effectively ending the banks' ability to front run or bet against their client's orders. While core investment banking operations, like deal-making and taking companies public, would be spared, anything in the trading realm could be up for elimination.

    The original rule made exceptions that allowed banks to keep their market-making activities in order to help their clients hedge their positions and maintain liquidity in the markets. But to engage in market-making, a bank must take on a certain amount of risk by buying up and selling securities. Many fear that the banks will just lump all their proprietary trading activities under the market-making exception to allow business to go on as normal.

    But the government is well aware of that risk and appears to be taking it very seriously. In fact, the majority of the draft is spent on this very topic. One proposed rule would force the banks to report any trading plan used for market making activities. It would require the banks to prove that they were not engaging in a short-term resale of a security and also prove that they were not benefitting from any actual or short-term price movements through trading arbitrage or hedging.

    It would then all come down to enforcement. The regulators don't have to catch every prop trade disguised as a market-making trade. Hefty fines for just a few violations will eventually squeeze the profit margin of the business, forcing the firms to eventually comply with the spirit of the law.

    Discussion of the Volcker Rule couldn't have come at a worse time for the banks. High margin capital markets activity at the big U.S. banks has hit a snag amid uncertainty in the world economy. The amount of money raised in IPOs in the third quarter globally was down 49% from the same time last year, while the number of mergers and acquisitions announced globally were down 19%. Global investment banking revenue is expected to fall 37% in the third quarter compared with the previous quarter, according to Dealogic.

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