Goldman’s investor day disappoints; Fed on hold

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Rates held

As expected, the Federal Reserve “left its benchmark interest rate unchanged Wednesday and reaffirmed its make-no-moves posture,” the Wall Street Journal reports. But Fed Chairman Jerome Powell’s comments at a news conference following the Fed’s monetary policy meeting “suggested that lingering risks to the global economy and difficulty sustaining inflation at the Fed’s 2% target meant that if Fed officials were to change rates, they would be more likely to cut them than to raise them.”

“Even though it left the Fed’s main policy rate unchanged, the committee did raise by five basis points the interest it pays banks on the reserves they hold on the Fed’s balance sheet, to 1.6% from 1.55%,” the Financial Times says. “This interest on excess reserves, or IOER, is one of a few short-term interest rates the Fed uses as a tool to keep the fed funds rate within its target band.”

Powell “walked a careful line in his post-meeting news conference, painting a picture of a solid economy that is fueled by strong job gains and a confident consumer willing to spend,” the New York Times says. “But he noted that global risks remain, including the outbreak of a deadly new Coronavirus, and price gains remain surprisingly soft.”

“Central bank officials are monitoring a number of risks,” the Washington Post notes, “including ongoing trade tensions and the coronavirus outbreak in China that has many government executives, public health officials and business leaders on edge.”

Not impressed

Goldman Sachs Wednesday “gave shareholders an unprecedented look under the hood at its first-ever investor day, aiming to turn skeptics into believers in Chief Executive David Solomon’s turnaround plan,” the Journal reports. “Goldman set financial targets for the first time ever and previewed new consumer products like checking accounts and financial management that might have come straight from JPMorgan Chase or Bank of America.”

It also “debuted a newfound openness once unthinkable for the aloof Wall Street firm. Mr. Solomon, a year into the CEO job, has tried to humanize Goldman and drop some of the secrecy that once bolstered its mythic status but has played poorly with investors as profits fell.”

But Goldman’s presentation lacked the “wow factor,” the FT says.

The firm “promised a sharp improvement in profitability in an attempt to quell shareholder concerns that the once-undisputed champion of Wall Street has lost its touch,” the paper added. “Goldman said it aimed to achieve a 14% return on tangible equity by 2022. The target, which includes $1.3 billion of cost savings during the next three years, would be a significant improvement on its latest return of 10.6%.

Yet the “long-awaited presentation failed to spark any immediate positive response from the market. Goldman’s shares, which have lagged rivals for much of the last decade,” were down more than 1% on the day, although most bank stocks were also lower.

While Goldman “is making some eye-catching forays into new businesses, for the next couple years, at least, a big part of its fortunes will still be tied to what it long has been: a Wall Street trading house,” the Journal says. “So while it is tempting to focus on the future of Goldman’s Marcus consumer bank or its new transaction-banking platform, any share-price gains for now may be driven more by its longstanding global markets business. Main Street might be Goldman’s future, but Wall Street still has a big part to play.”

American Banker’s Kevin Wack looks into Goldman’s big plans in digital consumer banking.

Tough times

A day after it was revealed that pay raises for Deutsche Bank’s rank-and-file employees won’t take effect until April 1, rather than retroactive to the beginning of the year, the FT reports “most senior executives will take home bonuses for 2019, abandoning a recent practice of waiving them during unprofitable years. Although the nine members of Deutsche’s management board, which include chief executive Christian Sewing, have agreed to forego about half of their variable pay for last year, they can still expect to receive about €13 million bonuses.”

However, “one person familiar with the matter said the executives on the nine-member board will accept deeper cuts than other Deutsche Bank employees, who will face a cut in their bonus pool of about 20%.”

Separately, Deutsche reported a €5.3 billion ($5.8 billion) loss for full-year 2019, highlighting the size of its challenge in making itself leaner and more profitable through a sweeping overhaul,” the Journal reports. “Despite the steep loss, the bank reported better-than-expected capital levels, easing concerns it would eventually have to sell more shares to fund its restructuring.”

Another positive: The bank reported a 31% gain in fourth quarter revenues at its “struggling investment bank.”

One big reason for the loss: “The bank absorbed severance payments as it eliminated more than 4,000 jobs, bringing the total number of employees to 88,000. The bank also recorded losses as it acknowledged that some assets had lost value.”

Wall Street Journal

Mastering the quarter

Mastercard said its fourth quarter net income more than doubled to $2.1 billion compared to the year earlier quarter, when it took more than $750 million in litigation charges. Net revenue rose 16% to $4.41 billion. Card transaction volume climbed 11% to $1.73 trillion.

Looking ahead, “the company said it expects adjusted operating expenses in 2020 to climb by a high single-digit percentage and affirmed it is expecting adjusted revenue to rise by a percentage in the low teens. Mastercard’s revenue guidance is on par with the three-year guidance the company gave a year ago, calling for compound annual revenue growth in a low-teens percentage from 2019 through 2021.”

No shaming

“Attendees at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week repeatedly heard that the path to a carbon-free future runs through the financial system.” But “that can be achieved only through difficult political decisions rather than public shaming” of banks, the paper says.

“One way the climate-conscious can accomplish this is by pushing banks to extend more financing to alternative energy, which actually does need a lot of outside funding. Another is to prod banks and other businesses to lean on those who really can drive down fossil-fuel consumption via carbon taxes, cap-and-trade systems, or mandates: their governments.”


For shame

JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley “have been placed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange’s ‘named and shamed’ list after the $300 million initial public offering of Chinese biotech company Akeso Inc. was sent back for not meeting the correct regulatory requirements. Bankers and lawyers working in Hong Kong refer to the returned list as a ‘named and shamed’ file because of the rarity of IPO submissions being sent back by the exchange. The exchange’s website shows just 11 IPOs have been sent back in the past six years, out of thousands lodged in that time.”


“We’re comfortable with our current policy stance and we think it’s appropriate.” — Fed Chair Jerome Powell, announcing the Fed’s decision to leave its benchmark interest rate unchanged

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