JPM breaks free; Merrill to sweep uninvested funds away from MMFs

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Free trade: JPMorgan Chase will launch a program next week in which bank customers will be able to make at least 100 free stock or exchange-traded fund trades for one year, with no account minimums. The program, called You Invest, will also give customers the opportunity to earn unlimited free trades after that, depending on their activity. Wall Street Journal, Financial Times

Shares of online brokerages, such as Charles Schwab and TD Ameritrade, that offer low-fee trades dropped sharply on the news.

Wall Street Journal

Keeping more: Merrill Lynch said it will stop automatically sweeping customers’ uninvested cash into money market funds starting in September and instead move it into lower-yielding deposits at affiliated banks. Brokers will still be able to manually move the funds into money market accounts. “The giant firm thus joins many other major brokerages, including Morgan Stanley and Charles Schwab, in potentially capturing more of the income on cash balances for themselves, rather than passing most of it through to clients. In exchange for depositing their customers’ uninvested cash at banks — often, as in Merrill’s case, banks affiliated with the firm — brokerages receive hefty fees.”

Paper, please: Large commercial real estate investors, like pension funds and wealthy individuals, are moving more of their money out of outright property ownership and into property loans instead. “These types of loans tend to be more speculative than those backed by mostly leased properties, but they can bring higher returns. With commercial real-estate prices having leveled off and even retreated in some markets, many investors believe that lending has become a safer bet than buying real estate.”

Better than toasters?: Chinese banks are offering savings accounts tied to bets on currencies, gold and other commodities in an effort to attract retail deposits. The “explosion” in what was “a previously obscure line of business … marks the latest effort by lenders to circumvent Beijing’s campaign against financial risk, and to head off rising competition from the lightly regulated shadow-banking sector and upstart high-tech rivals such as Ant Financial. It also reflects an old struggle in a country where banks can’t freely set their own interest rates.”

New kid on the block: John Repko is joining American International Group as chief information officer next month. He will report to CEO Brian Duperreault and will be responsible for the insurance giant’s global technology strategy. He replaces Martha Gallo, who is leaving the company. Repko was global CIO at Johnson Controls.

Save it for a rainy day: Jason Furman, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, under President Obama, says it’s “high time” for the Federal Reserve to “raise countercyclical capital-buffer rates, which govern the amount of extra equity and cash banks are supposed to hold in good times. Increasing the capital buffer would reduce the risk of financial instability, set a precedent for sound macroeconomic management, and build up a bigger cushion for the next downturn.

“Asking banks to lay more capital aside while the sun is still shining would strengthen their ability to withstand the next rainy day,” he wrote in an op-ed. “It would lessen the risk of future bailouts. And by calming the markets it would reduce the chances of another crisis in the first place.”

Financial Times

Innovator: Barclays has hired Justin Brickwood away from Goldman Sachs to head up its markets innovation effort in London. Brickwood, a 22-year Goldman veteran, “will be tasked with integrating artificial intelligence and machine learning into Barclays’ trading platforms.”


“What we learned as a result of the pilots is that the larger single-family rental investor market continues to perform successfully without the liquidity provided by the enterprises.” — Mel Watt, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, announcing that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are ending a two-year pilot program to provide guarantees for single-family rental property deals.

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