Investment banks suffer worst first quarter since financial crisis

A Goldman Sachs Group Inc. logo hangs on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
A Goldman Sachs Group Inc. logo hangs on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

LONDON (REUTERS) - Revenue at the world's 12 largest investment banks fell 25 per cent in the first quarter from a year ago as economic uncertainty and investor caution led to the slowest start since the financial crisis, a survey showed on Tuesday (May 24).

Investment banks have been hit by a steep decline in oil prices, near-zero interest rates and worries about China's economy, which triggered a wave of volatility in financial markets at the start of the year, normally the most lucrative period when investors put their money to work.

Trading in fixed income, currencies and commodities (FICC) divisions, which are particularly exposed to economic conditions, declined 28 per cent year-on-year to US$17.8 billion, data from industry analytics firm Coalition shows.

Since 2011, revenues in FICC are now down 49 per cent and headcount in that area is down 33 per cent, the data shows. Credit and securitisation have experienced particularly steep revenue declines of 62 per cent and 74 per cent respectively during that period.

Coalition tracks Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Barclays, BNP Paribas, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley, Societe Generale and UBS.

The downturn comes as banks are having to comply with new regulations forcing them to hold more capital, reduce risk-taking and scale back market-making activities, all of which are squeezing liquidity from an array of capital markets.

Other divisions proved equally dismal, with revenues down across the board. In banks' equity businesses, a bright spot last year, revenues were down 20 per cent year-on-year in the first quarter to US$11.7 billion as investors reduced risk appetite.

Since 2011, revenues have fallen on aggregate by 11 per cent in equities with headcount declining 12 per cent, the data shows.

Investment banking divisions (IBD), which advise on mergers and acquisitions (M&A), and equity and debt underwriting saw a 25 per cent decline compared to last year to US$7.8 billion as reduced deal volumes and a slump in capital markets activities weighed.

Equity capital markets (ECM) activity plunged 58 per cent year-on-year to US$1.1 billion, after a dearth of new listings in choppy markets. Since 2011, ECM revenues are now down 59 per cent.

IBD revenues have fallen 23 per cent since 2011 on aggregate, with headcount dropping 14 per cent.