market making

There’s a huge article by Frank Partnoy and Jesse Eisinger in the Atlantic today about how banks are so horribly complicated that even sophisticated investors, meaning basically Bill Ackman, don’t trust them any more. I suppose this provides an excuse for me to trot out a toy theory that’s been congealing in my head, which is roughly that you can have two of the following in a publicly traded financial company, but not three:

  • “banking,”
  • “market making,”
  • “investibility.”

Like: you could, or someone could, make some educated guesses about what goes on at a bank that takes deposits and makes mortgage and commercial loans, and decide whether or not it’s a good business that you should invest in. You could even make such guesses and decisions about what goes on at an old-school broker-dealer that trades securities for a living. (Maybe? I’m less confident of this leg.) But for universal banks I’m kind of with Ackman – and Partnoy and Eisinger – that you have to give up on making intelligent decisions, or failing that have your intelligent decision be “I’m gonna need a 50% discount to book value before I invest in this thing.”

You can attribute the opacity of modern banking to like “bankers are eeeeeeevil,” which I don’t particularly believe, or “regulators are weeeeeeeak,” which seems sort of lame. Me I tentatively like “banking + market-making = insoluble complexity.”

The heart of the Atlantic article is an attempted deep dive into Wells Fargo’s financials, which ends up splattering against the rocks that guard those financials. Here is where things start to get alarming, for some value of alarming: Read more »

  • 10 May 2010 at 1:09 PM

Goldman Traders Never Had a Down Day

Being in the business of “facilitating clients,” as Gary Cohn likes to put it, seems like the most profitable game in town these days.

Goldman Sachs just revealed in an SEC filing that its traders made money on every single trading day last quarter, a record for the firm. Net revenue for trading was $25 million or higher in all of the first quarter’s 63 trading days with 35 of those days bringing in more $100 million, according to the filing. Read more »