Skip to comments.Bank Job Cuts, Wall Street Bonuses and Fed Policy: Good Examples of False Recovery
Posted on 02/28/2013 8:31:45 AM PST by SeekAndFind
The Wall Street Journal of Feb. 27 tells the story in its own headlines. On page C1, the story was, "JPMorgan Pulls Belt Tight," while on C3 the headline read, "Wall Street's Bonus Pool Hits $20 Billion." If that doesn't describe this crazy false recovery we are allegedly undergoing, nothing does.
Of course, the picky can point out that JPMorgan Chase is tightening its belt on its banking side and the Wall Street bonus increases are paid to traders, investment bankers and other employees of securities firms. But to the average Joe, it's hard to understand, if the JPMorgan Chase website says it is a leader in investment banking, how or why it doesn't somehow have a connection with the Wall Street crowd.
So, it is seen as ironic when a massive "global financial services firm" announces it will trim its payroll by 17,000 jobs by the end of next year (and it is not alone -- most financial giants have been and are cutting), while at the same time financial institutions who also engage in "investment banking" are giving big bonuses this year.
Don't get me wrong, this is not class warfare here. The investment bankers, traders, employees ... whatever, who are getting bonuses, had their bonuses slashed in recent years. And the layoffs at JPMorgan are reportedly coming in large part from its consumer bank and home loan departments.
And JPMorgan shouldn't be punished in the court of public opinion. While it was the most profitable bank in the U.S. in 2012, revenue has been flat, in part due to low interest rates, which have kept the financial institutions from making more loans, while at the same time costs continue to rise.
In other words, while the folks on Wall Street might be feeling like the economy is recovering, those who work in the real world of servicing regular old banking clients or making traditional loans aren't feeling the recovery at all. And I've got news for everyone: This story is not going to get any better.
With Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's remarks indicating that rates will remain low, the stock market might jump for temporary joy. But its euphoria is being fed by a continued artificial pump of energy from a government that cannot keep on keeping on.
Meanwhile, economists are revising downward their projections for economic growth this year. That means not only the big banks, but just about every segment of the economy will see continued pressure to trim more and more fat where fat no longer really exists.
The so-called housing recovery will come to a screeching halt when the markets finally have to face the fact that the economy can no longer be propped up by the Federal Reserve and the unemployment rate starts to march sideways, if not toward higher unemployment.
And as a precursor to what could be a hard fall for the economy, reports suggest that investors have increasingly been forced into so-called "junk bonds" in order to try to generate a return on investment. This is a direct result of the Fed's insistence that interest rates remain low with little or no return to investors. Oh, boy, a rush to junk bonds, revisions in the gross domestic product projection and money flowing to Wall Street hotshots. If that doesn't sound familiar, then you must be pretty new to the game of life.
In 2006, I wrote a column about how the housing market was going to collapse. It was one of the times I got lucky and was correct. Wikipedia now notes that 2006 was the height of the housing market.
There are other times I have been dead wrong. So I'm not claiming to be a source of investment guidance or some financial guru.
But there are just too many similar circumstances taking place -- similar to the lead up to prior recessions or even the financial meltdown of 2008. The Fed just cannot keep printing cheap money, people cannot continue flocking to junk bonds and average workers cannot continue to face pink slips without something hitting the fan at some point. And when it does, this jobless, humorless, miserable "recovery" will clearly either be over or one that never really existed in the first place.
J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM) announced it will cut 4,000 part-time jobs and another 13,000 contract positions in its mortgage business. The bank blamed weaknesses in the mortgage market and new federal regulation for the action. Other banks face similar problems, so cuts across the industry are likely not over.
Some of the big cuts in the industry already have happened. Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC) announced in September 2011 it would eliminate 30,000 jobs between then and 2015. The savings, the bank said, would total $5 billion. Rumors are persistent that other large U.S. financial firms will make cuts of a smaller magnitude this year, as trading profits shrink and consumer banking becomes more competitive and less profitable.
As bank earnings for the fourth quarter showed, the financial services recovery that was spectacular in 2011 has stalled. CEO Vikram Pandit was ousted from Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C) in September of last year, allegedly in part because he was not aggressive enough in cutting costs. New CEO Michael ONeill said he would fire 11,000. Investment banks such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE: GS) and Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS) will need to right size to keep margins at what Wall St. views as acceptable levels.
Among Bank of America, Citigroup and J.P. Morgan, announced layoffs have reached 58,000.
Banks continue to face the issues of bad debt and bloated payrolls, although the problems are not as severe as two years ago. The nations largest banks are the ones that have announced the most massive layoffs. But in the tier below them are another 20 or 30 banks. Their job cuts are not carefully watched by the national media, but they have happened and probably will continue to nevertheless. Only recently, BMO Financial and State Street Corp. (NYSE: STT) reported tough quarters. And foreign banks with large U.S. operations have related problems, although much of the trouble rests with challenges in their home markets.
Bank layoffs are not over. In fact, they may accelerate.