The Greensill Bank building in Bremen, Germany. Reuters
A surge in blank-cheque investment vehicle fundraising and frantic pandemic-related trading in 2020 boosted investment banks’ income by a record 28% from the year before, a report showed on Friday.
Revenues for the 12 largest investment banks tracked in research firm Coalition Greenwich’s index rose to $194 billion, the highest annual total for the industry since the survey began around a decade ago.
The trading bonanza showed how Wall Street and European banks benefited as the COVID-19 pandemic sparked global government and central bank action, upending asset prices and sending investors scrambling for safe havens. Meanwhile, Greensill Bank said it had immediately complied with a request by Germany’s financial regulator BaFin after it raised concerns late last year over accounting practices.
“In late 2020 and early 2021 the BaFin advised that they did not agree with the way the assets were classified by Greensill Bank and directed that they be changed,” Greensill said in a statement.
“In accordance with Bafin’s request, Greensill Bank immediately complied and changed the way the assets are classified.”
Later in the year banks feasted on the craze for so-called blank-cheque or special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs), which raise money to acquire another company without specifying which one to their investors in advance.
Just one part of a listings boom which also included more traditional initial public offerings (IPOs), SPACs raised a record $82 billion last year and the trend has been gathering steam in 2021, boosting fee income for banks organising the deals.
Fixed income, currency and commodities (FICC) income rose 41% year-on-year, the Coalition report said, with commodities revenues hitting record levels as investors sought safe havens in precious metals and as oil prices surged later in the year.
Central Bank intervention to stimulate flatlining pandemic-hit economies also drove strong trading in credit products, except for more complex structured debt which risk-averse investors largely shunned.
In equities, derivatives volumes hit their highest level in a decade, Coalition said, but again more complex structured products underperformed as companies axing dividends in the first half of the year hit derivatives tied to such payouts.
Despite the bumper year, frontline revenue-producing bankers faced job losses, Coalition said, with positions down 1% from a year earlier to 48,700 as banks cut structured equity derivatives jobs in particular on waning demand.
That meant revenue per employee rose across all business lines, with the trend most evident in FICC where the measure rose to some $6 million, up 44% from 2019. Banks kept bonus increases modest even as income soared, mindful of being seen to splurge too much amid an economic crisis and looking ahead to likely tougher times this year.
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