Rate Hike Winners and Losers: With a rate hike announcement seen as all but inevitable by week's end, attention has focused on who will win and who will lose when interest rates rise. The obvious winners in the Wall Street Journal's book? Asset managers and online brokers. As an example, the paper points to Charles Schwab. While the company makes a great deal of its money in trading commissions, for the first three quarters of 2015 over a third of its income came from net interest revenue. Additionally, those in the money-market-fund industry, such as Schwab, Fidelity Investments, JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, also stand to benefit from an increase in rates. But not everyone wins in such a change, and one potential loser could be the city of Denver, according to the New York Times. While Denver seems prepared for an interest rate increase – it's got low unemployment and a booming tech sector that's supported a strong local economy – the city has also seen a boom in housing, and with housing prices nearly a quarter above their pre-crisis peak, some worry about a fall. Others think that higher interest rates could stymie otherwise burgeoning growth in the city, with car dealers and construction firms looking at the move with a healthy dose of pessimism.
Wall Street Journal
Small Utah-based lender WebBank has made a big business out of serving some of the biggest marketplace-lending platforms, including LendingClub and Prosper Marketplace. In the past week, the bank drew ire when it was revealed it had made a loan to San Bernardino, Calif., shooter Syed Rizwan Farook, though the bank has not been accused of wrongdoing. And that's not WebBank's only concern. Regulators are threatening to enforce stricter standards in marketplace lending. More worrying, an appellate court decision could make it harder for marketplace lenders to work with Utah banks to avoid rate caps in other states due to Utah's lack of a usury limit, essentially challenging WebBank's entire model. Nonetheless, the bank's small staff and success have allowed it to record impressive results, including an amazing 59% return on equity. And if it's model is not changed, it could make even more in the future depending on the success of the industry it now serves.
How to beat the startups is the question du jour for European banks attempting to adapt to a new industry landscape. The paper's look into startup competition is part of a special report series, The Future of Banking, which looks at everything from the growing role of technology to the change in leadership culture at Europe's big banks. When it comes to startups, the concern comes in how new entrants have succeeded in different markets without the same legacy costs of bigger, traditional banks. Addressing the startups varies though from bank to bank. Italy's UniCredit has worked on developing its IT platform and becoming a "digital partner" to corporate customers. BBVA, on the other hand, has taken the ol' "when you can't beat 'em, join 'em" approach and invested in online lender Atom Bank. Which strategy will be more successful remains to be seen.
Another strategy some banks have adopted in the race to stay relevant is to open up fintech innovation labs. The likes of Barclays, Deutsche and Citi are hoping that these innovation hubs will not only attract top talent, but also to help the banks remain at the cutting-edge of financial technology. Barclays' Rise London lab is working on new technologies aimed at addressing issues related to global finance. The program has offshoots in New York, Tel Aviv, Israel, and Cape Town, South Africa, but in London it functions as more of an accelerator. Rather than develop technologies in its own right, Rise provides fintech startups with shared work space, support, a free auditorium and a café. Citi's lab on the other hand is more productive, actively developing new technologies including a corporate banking app. Even though the labs' practices vary widely, their thesis is the same: developing these hubs keeps banks in touch with new technology, whether they're developing it themselves or not.
New apps don't only represent new money-making opportunities, they also symbolize a tool in the fight for financial inclusion. In yet another entry in its special report, the paper looks at the trials and tribulations of companies developing financial services mobile apps aimed at developing economies. While many in the developing world are unbanked – only 54% of adults in developing economies have a bank account according to the World Bank – mobile phone usage is more ubiquitous. Consequently, in countries like Kenya, so-called "mobile money" plays a big role in financial services. Mobile payment system M-pesa has grown since launcing in the sub-Saharan country in 2007 to the point where 58% of adults have a mobile account. But the success of these apps and other non-traditional lending efforts is not even or universal – while they have become critical tools in Africa, they have languished in Latin America. For instance, in Brazil, microlending efforts ended up in high rates of default. And ultimately, banks have yet to see these new technologies in the developing world lead to higher returns.
U.S. prosecutors are ramping up pressure against banks as part of their probe into the world's governing body for soccer, FIFA. Prosecutors are holding private discussions with a host of banks, including JPMorgan, Bank of America, Citigroup and HSBC, to learn how much they knew about the suspicious activity going on at the sports governing body. The potential role the banks played – knowingly or not – could have serious consequences – the paper points to the $2 billion penalty levied against JPMorgan for not filing reports on suspicious activity related to Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme.
Wells Fargo is feeling the burn – or lack there of. The bank's head of corporate banking Kyle Hranicky hinted that its energy portfolio have become a source of stress for the company. The bank has reportedly discussed cutting borrowing limits and preserving cash with its clients. Wells Fargo has a longstanding client base in the energy business, which is just beginning to feel the brunt of the slump in energy prices. The bank is certainly no stranger to business cycles, but Hranicky cautioned that the current situation "feels deeper and broader and could last longer." While certainly a headwind, some analysts are now saying though that energy may not turn out to be a huge problem – Keefe, Bruyette & Woods predicts that net charge-offs as a proportion of loans will fall in 2016.
New York Times
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have not had the easiest time coming back from the financial crisis, in part because of the government's regulation over the enterprises. The paper analyzes the government's decision to direct the government-sponsored enterprises' profits into the Treasury – despite a turn-up in business – and how that move has drawn ire and legal challenges from investors and speculators. The change in bailout terms, they say, was tantamount to the government taking private property and potentially in violation of state laws. Obama's administration disagrees, naturally. But regardless of the legal ramifications, the result has been that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have struggled under the weight of serious government regulation far outpacing their bank peers. And it's precisely that scenario that has given those banks an opportunity to takeover the GSE's assets and future profits, the paper says.