Tuesday, 6 May 2014
The end of investment Banking in London?
The City was a great centre for Investment banking, bigger than New York and far above the weight of any other European city.
Of course, we had our key supporting areas such as law, currency trading and accountancy which provided a good net to support the industry, but nonetheless the rise was large from the 1980's - US Bulge Bracket banks has often bigger offices in London than in New York.
Arguably, the height came in 2009, when Barclays bought the investment banking unit of Lehman Brothers in New York.
How the tables have turned, not just on the British banks, but on Investment Banking in general and particularly in London. Barclays is in a mess, today it announced more disappointing profits at its investment bank. The US CEo, Skip McGee has left and there is talk of a culture war within the Bank. I don't pretend to understand the details, but as an outside it would seem sensible to sell the unit rather than close it down, with all the associated costs, piecemeal.
This after all, is what RBS has done, slowly closing its investment bank. It would have been better to sell it for a £1 a few year ago.
Lloyds Bank has long ago relieved itself of any Equity Capital Market business.
Only HSBC remains in the market of the UK banks. Even in the City, the news is worse. Credit Suisse and UBS have both massively scaled down their Investment banking to focus on their Private Client business.
The US banks too, mindful of the London Whale scandal and also US Regulation, have scaled down in the UK.
So, in effect I would guesstimate that something approaching 50% of frontline roles are no more. many have been replaced with people in compliance or legal, but in terms of generating business this is not the same thing at all.
Of course, many people will just assume this is a good thing - less 'Casino' Banking. They are wrong for the most part. The Casino lives, in Bermuda funds, in direct advice to foreign sovereign entities, in boutiques. The sad news is that this is fine for the generation of bankers who have the contacts already. There is no ladder for the next generation.
Instead the next generation will be in Singapore, Shanghai, Dubai, Hong Kong, New York and maybe London too.
This, over time, will have a big knock on to the professional services business and other UK businesses. We may have a better balanced economy, but sub-prime was not an issue for UK lending really was it? We have killed the goose that laid the eggs. It will be sometime yet before this is apparent but we have done so nonetheless.
I am not saying we will not find a new goose, but at the moment that seems to be a property bubble, as it has been many times in the past and we all know this leads to a cyclical boom and bust that does little good in the long-run and much ill.