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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。

    交易业务的情况也没有好多少。虽然第三季度由于市场动荡,交易呈现快进快出的特点,但不少交易量似乎都来自毛利较低的电子交易。由于投资者回避高风险信贷工具,一度获利丰厚的高收益率市场几无声息。第三季度高收益率市场活动环比缩减75%。与此同时,信贷市场其他领域的高息差和定价不一致也使得很多银行的存量资产缩水,很可能完全抵消了经纪佣金。

    所有这些坏消息预计都会给银行盈利带来巨大冲击。分析人士已调低了预测值,准备迎接疲弱的业绩数据,这也拖低了所有大型银行的股价。但如果比起政府全面实施沃尔克法可能给银行业利润率带来的影响,短期盈利不佳的消息可谓无足轻重。虽然各大银行都会受到沉重打击,但两家由投资银行转变而来的银行控股公司——高盛和摩根士丹利将首当其冲。

    JP摩根(JP Morgan)的一项分析显示,如果政府只瞄准自营性质的交易,高盛可能有14%的投行营收会受到影响。但如果政府同时也重拳出击造市交易,这一比例将跃升至52%。摩根士丹利的净利润也会大打折扣,有40%的投行营收会受到强硬的沃尔克法则的影响。

    两家银行都已采取措施关闭明显属于自营性质的业务部门。2009年和2010年,高盛关闭了几个自营交易部,目前正在逐步缩减一度寄予厚望的全球Alpha对冲基金。2008年抵押贷款危机导致严重亏损后,摩根士丹利关闭了大部分自营交易业务部门。但这两家银行都没有采取措施,真正为可能严重冲击其做市业务的沃尔克法则做好准备。过去一直有这样的假设,认为政府在这方面会对它们网开一面。

    银行控股公司

    但由于法则草案矛头直指做市活动,这两家银行可能需要重新考虑战略。鉴于经纪交易业务对这两家银行净利润的重要程度,它们显然无法接受强硬的沃尔克法则。这是因为它们的确不是传统的银行。2008年,为了能参与政府救助项目,它们转变成了银行控股公司。当时货币市场和隔夜回购资金市场资金枯竭,它们需要通过贴现窗口获得廉价的政府资金以避免可能出现的流动性危机。为此,它们基本上同意转变成乏味的商业银行,接受更多的监管监督。

    两年后的今天,这两家公司基本上没有发生变化。高盛和摩根士丹利或许称得上是银行控股公司,但事实上也只是名义上而已。举例来说,城里没有高盛的零售银行机构和ATM机,也看不到任何摩根士丹利的借记卡。两家公司只有10%的资金源于客户存款,与JP摩根、美国银行(Bank of America)和花旗集团(Citigroup)等大型商业银行形成了鲜明对比,大型商业银行约有一半的资金源于存款。

    沃尔克法则瞄准的是商业银行,而不是经纪交易商。纯经纪交易商和非银行关联公司似乎不受沃尔克法则约束,可以自由交易,政府不会有太多干预。高盛、摩根士丹利回归经纪交易商身份的转换成本非常低。高盛已公开表示不会放弃银行牌照,但据一位了解内情的人士称,高盛内部进行过这样的讨论。问题是:阻止他们迈出这一步的到底是什么?

    一切的根源可能在于观念。目前,市场压力很大,两家公司可能都害怕失去廉价的政府资金支持。政府这条生命线能随时满足他们一切借款需求,并相对保密。纯经纪交易商则依赖多变的货币市场为其交易活动融资,没有政府作为后盾,在当前震荡多变的市场中要冒很高风险。

    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定位问题。如果它们希望保留银行身份,就必须接受,将来以自有资金涉险时将不再拥有政府作为后盾。如果它们想赚取大笔交易利润,就该承担随之而来的所有风险,放弃政府的廉价资金。眼下,两家公司两头都想要。但强硬的沃尔克法则却会让这个美梦落空。

    It wasn't much better on the trading side of the business. While trading velocity was strong in the third quarter due to all the volatility in the markets, much of the flow seem to be coming from lower-margin electronic trading activity. The once lucrative high yield market went virtually silent as investors shied away from risky credit instruments. Activity in that market was down 75% in the third quarter compared with the previous quarter. Meanwhile, wide spreads and incongruent pricing in the rest of the credit markets led to many banks to take negative inventory marks, which will most likely outweigh broker commissions.

    All this bad news is expected to weigh heavily on bank earnings. Analysts have slashed their estimates in preparation for the weak numbers, dragging down the share prices at all the major banks. But this short-term blip in profits pales in comparison to what could happen to the banks' bottom line if the Volcker Rule is fully enforced by the government. While all the major banks will be hit hard, the two investment-banks-turned-bank-holding-companies, Goldman Sachs (GS) and Morgan Stanley (MS), are expected to experience the most pain.

    Goldman could see 14% of its total investment banking revenue impacted if the government focuses solely on trades that are proprietary in nature, according to an analysis by JP Morgan (JPM). But if the government clamps down hard on market making as well, that number jumps to 52%. Morgan Stanley's bottom line would also be eviscerated, with 40% of its investment banking revenue impacted by a strong Volcker Rule.

    Both banks have taken steps to close business units that are clearly proprietary in nature. Goldman shuttered several of its prop desks in 2009 and 2010 and is currently winding down its once high-flying Global Alpha hedge fund. Morgan Stanley closed most of its prop trading units after experiencing heavy losses as a result of the mortgage meltdown in 2008. But neither has taken steps to seriously prepare for a strong Volcker Rule where their market-making activities could be seriously impacted. It was always assumed that the government would go easy on them in that regard.

    Bank holding companies

    But with the draft rule clearly focused on market-making, the banks may need to rethink their strategy. A strong Volcker Rule would clearly be unacceptable to both banks given how important the broker dealer operations are to their bottom lines. That's because they are really not traditional banks. In 2008, the two became bank holding companies so they could have access to the government's bailout programs. The money market and overnight repo funding markets dried up and they needed access to cheap government funds through the discount window in order to resolve what could have been an insolvency crisis. In return, they basically agreed to become boring commercial banks, which would open them up to more regulatory oversight.

    Two years later, little has changed for the firms. Goldman and Morgan may be bank holding companies, but it's really in name only. For example, there aren't any Goldman Sachs retail bank branches or ATMs around town and there are no Morgan Stanley debit cards in sight. The firms receive just 10% of their funding needs through customer deposits. That's in contrast to the large commercial banks, like JP Morgan, Bank of America (BAC) and Citigroup (C), which derive around half of their funding needs from deposits.

    The Volcker Rule is aimed at the commercial banks, not the broker dealers. Pure play broker dealers and non-bank affiliates appear to be exempt from Volcker and can trade as they like without much government interference. There would be very little switching costs for Goldman and Morgan to go back to being broker dealers. Goldman has said publicly it would not give up its bank charter, but internally there have been discussions about doing just that, according to a person familiar with the firm's thinking. The question is: what's holding them back?

    It all comes down to perception. The firms may be afraid to give up cheap funding from the government at a time of severe market stress. The government lifeline allows them to borrow whatever they want, whenever they want it, and in relative secrecy. Pure-play broker dealers are dependent on the fickle money markets to fund their trading activities and don't have access to that government backstop -- a dangerous game in today's volatile markets.

    Goldman and Morgan have had two years to figure out what they want to be in the post-financial crisis world. If they want to be banks, they should accept that the government will no longer be backstopping them while they gamble for their own account. If they want to make big trading profits, then they should accept all the risks that go along with that proposal and give up the government lifeline. For now, the firms are hoping to have their cake and eat it too. But a strong Volcker Rule just might take the cake away.

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