Financial Market Update: After the Closing Bell-Monday, Sept. 22
- Sep 22, 2008
The age of the investment bank is over. Once upon a time, a bank was a bank. Then the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 separated the banking world into deposit and investment realms, and even though Glass-Steagall was repealed by a deregulation-happy Congress in 1999, established investment banks at the time declined to get into the business of providing checking and savings accounts to ordinary folk. Now the two companies left standing after the great American investment bank bloodletting last week, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, have thought better of their reticence to be deposit banks. The two petitioned the Federal Reserve Board over the weekend to change their status, and the board wasted no time in approving the change. The U.S. “investment bank” is now as much a thing of the past as cheap gas. Besides its shift in focus, Morgan Stanley is also selling as much as 20 percent of itself for $8.4 billion in an effort to remain one of the last men standing on Wall Street. The buyer will be Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Japan’s largest bank. “Mitsubishi UFJ would be a valuable partner as we transition to a bank holding company and build our bank services and deposit base,” Morgan Stanley chairman & CEO John Mack said in a statement. Indeed. The Japanese financial industry went through its own meltdown in the 1990s — triggering a recession in that country that lasted until very recently–and so Mitsubishi UFJ chairman Ryosuke Tamakoshi might have some pointers for “Mack the Knife” Mack. Lehman may be bankrupt and on the way to corporate oblivion, but it’s still providing a feast for ostensibly stronger entities who see some value in getting a part of Lehman, presumably at fire-sale prices, or at least smoke- and water-damaged prices. According to Bloomberg, Nomura Holdings Inc. is on the verge of buying Lehman’s European investment banking and equities units. Japan’s largest investment bank has already agreed to pay $190 million for Lehman’s Asian unit.And what to do with Lehman’s $30 billion in commercial real estate assets? Or should that be “$30 billion” in assets? Everyone knows that property prices are down, but no one is quite sure what that will mean for Lehman’s portfolio, which includes the likes of its headquarters in Manhattan–which is going to Barclays for $1.75 billion–but also properties in various parts of the United States and Europe, even a golf course overlooking St. Tropez. Depressed prices may result in these assets fetching relatively little, but on the other hand, the sharks are circling, and they have some cash. The bankruptcy court may have to preside of a few biding wars for some of the assets. Remember the dollar? Weak most of this year, then a little stronger. The prospect of adding $1 trillion to the U.S. budget deficit will probably sent the currency down again. “Crush it,” to paraphrase one commentator. In the last week, the dollar has once against lost ground against the euro, the yen and even the Canadian, Australian and New Zealand dollars.The yo-yo market continued in earnest today as the Dow Jones index dropped more than 3 percent, fairly much a mirror of the rapid gains on Friday. Reportedly part of the drop stemmed from the absence of many hedge funds from playing in the market–if they can’t short sell financial stocks, they aren’t buying or selling at all for a while.