According to Goldman, the median company’s EV/sales ratio is now the highest in 35 years, surpassing even the dot com bubble.
Take a wild guess...
Yesterday Bank of America beat thanks to (among other things) ye olde "plunge in the effective tax rate" gimmick which let it beat EPS by two cents instead of missing by three. Today it was Goldman's turn to "beat" lowered EPS expectations of $4.18, posting a substantial beat of $4.60. So did Goldman also fudge its tax rate? Not exactly: instead, what Goldman did was to reduce its compensation benefits from $2.4 billion to $2.2 billion, which meant the firm's compensation margin declined from 35.2% to a tiny 24.9% of revenue. Had Goldman kept the comp margin flat it would have missed EPS by about 50 cents. However, unlike the other "banks" Goldman at least did post a notable beat in GAAP revenues (it was reluctant to use a non-GAAP top line, hear that Jamie?) as well, with Q4 sales rising from $6.7 billion in Q3 to $8.8 billion, on expectations of $7.8 billion. However, compared to a year ago, the top line was 5% lower, while Net Income of $4.60 was 21% lower than a year earlier.
Non-GAAP EPS, sure. But non-GAAP revenues? Up until today one would think that kind of accounting gimmickry is solely reserved for the profitless one-hit wonders of the world, i.e. Tesla, but moments ago we just saw JPM report two sets of revenues: one which was the firm's GAAP revenue, and which was $23.156 billion, and another, far higher number, which was $24.112 billion which JPM described as revenue on a "managed basis" or also known as non-GAAP, and largely made up as they go along. So continuing with the other fudges, JPM also reported Net Income of $5.3 billion, or EPS of $1.30, once again on a pseudo-GAAP basis. However, this wouldn't be JPM if it didn't have a boat load of adjustments, and sure enough it did as per the waterfall schedule below. As can be seen, the biggest benefit aside from the $0.32 DVA & FVA (yes, blowing out your CDS is profitable once more), was the $0.27 in litigation charges. Of course, for these to be an addback, they have to be non-recurring instead of repeated, guaranteed every quarter, but once again, who cares. And since we choose to stick with GAAP, the bottom line is that JPM revenues dropped from $23.7 billion in Q4 2012 to $23.2 billion this quarter, while EPS dropped from $1.39 to $1.31. Oh, and yes: for the purists, here is the bottom line: of that $5.3 billion in "earnings", $1.3 billion or double the expected (at least from Barclays) $616MM, came from loan loss reserve releases. Accounting magic wins again.
While Wall Street's hordes of lawyers are doing their best to find the various loopholes in the Volcker Rule that will allow them to resume unconditional prop trading, they are being kept busy with all the various other forms of regulation that have been thrown at them by regulators and the government in an attempt to make it appear that it is not Wall Street but DC that calls the shots. Some, however, such as Morgan Stanley have decided instead of engaging in costly fight with domestic regulation, to engage in cross border regulatory arbitrage, and focus on other, more prop-trading jurisdiction. Like India. As the Economic Times reports, the Indian brokerage arm of global investment banker Morgan Stanley has sought RBI's approval to start proprietary trading under which it will be able to buy and sell securities on its own account in India.
The ink on the final Volcker Rule has not dried yet, and already the TBTF armies of lawyers have found all the loopholes in the rule they need to continue prop trading as if nothing has changed. Enter Goldman Sachs which as the WSJ reported, is raising a new fund, to which it will contribute 20% in capital, which will make investments in commercial real estate-backed loans including office buildings, hotels, and shopping centers. "Goldman has raised more than $1 billion for the new fund, according to people briefed on the matter. The fund aims to boost that total to $2 billion, and Goldman expects to invest "up to 20% of total equity commitments," according to September marketing documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal." Just how did Goldman get the green light to allocated up to $400 million for what is clearly a prop trading bet: "because regulators excluded many real-estate loans from the tough restrictions on investment funds, allowing Wall Street firms to continue making concentrated bets—sometimes risky ones—with their own capital." In other words, when it comes to reflating the precious real estate bubble, anything goes.
Curious how much the various banks who stood to be impacted by or, otherwise, benefit from either a concentration or dilution of the Volcker rule? According to OpenSecrets, which crunched the numbers, here is how much being able to continue prop trading meant to some of the largest US banks and lobby groups:
- American Bankers Association: $6.495 million
- JPMorgan: $4 million
- Wells Fargo: $4.440 million
- Citigroup: $4.240 million
- Independent Community Bankers of America: $3.581 million
- Bank of America: $2 million
Not bad considering the loophole-ridden Volcker Rule will effectively permit "hedge" books (where an army of lawyers paid $1000/hour defines just what a hedge is) to continue piling on billions of dollars in wildly profitable, Fed reserve funded trades.
Volcker Rule Details Revealed: Compensation For Prop Trading Will Be Barred... Just Not Prop Trading ItselfSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 12/09/2013 17:03 -0500
The WSJ has revealed the latest developments of tomorrow's "fluid" Volcker Rule vote on prop trading:
- Volcker Rule Will Bar Compensation Arrangements That Reward Proprietary Trading, Rule Text Says
- Rule Will Exempt Foreign Sovereign Debt From Proprietary Trading Ban, According To Rule Text Reviewed By Wall Street Journal
In other words, prop trading itself will not be explicitly barred, just associated compensation (and banks can still buy as much Italian and Spanish bonds for their accounts as they want). Which means banks can engage in as much prop trading as they wish (which courtesy of $2.4 trillion in excess deposits aka excess reserves is a lot) and bang as much VIX closes as they desire, they just need to have trader bonus "arranagements" to be tied to something else. Like make-believe flow trading which can be manipulated to show anything and everything.
The Fed's Catch 22 just got catchier. While most attention in the recently released FOMC minutes fell on the return of the taper as a possibility even as soon as December (making the November payrolls report the most important ever, ever, until the next one at least), a less discussed issue was the Fed's comment that it would consider lowering the Interest on Excess Reserves to zero as a means to offset the implied tightening that would result from the reduction in the monthly flow once QE entered its terminal phase (for however briefly before the plunge in the S&P led to the Untaper). After all, the Fed's policy book goes, if IOER is raised to tighten conditions, easing it to zero, or negative, should offset "tightening financial conditions", right? Wrong. As the FT reports leading US banks have warned the Fed that should it lower IOER, they would be forced to start charging depositors.
With such a spectacular source of impeccably timed, if always wrong, FX trading recommendations as Tom Stolper, who has cost his muppets clients tens of thousands of pips in currency losses in the past 5 years, and thus generated the inverse amount in profits for Goldman's trading desks, the last thing we expected to learn was that Goldman's currency traders, who by definition takes the opposite side of its Kermitted clients - because prop trading is now long forbidden, (right Volcker rule?) and any prop trading blow up in the aftermath of the London Whale fiasco is not only a humiliation but probably illegal - had lost massive amounts on an FX trade gone wrong. Which is precisely what happened.
- JPMorgan $13 Billion Mortgage Deal Seen as Lawsuit Shield (BBG)
- J.P. Morgan Is Haunted by a 2006 Decision on Mortgages (WSJ)
- World powers, Iran in new attempt to reach nuclear deal (Reuters)
- Keystone Foes Seek to Thwart Oil Sands Exports by Rail (BBG) - mostly Warren Buffet?
- How Would Fed Deal With Debt Ceiling Crisis? Look to Minutes for Clues (Hilsenrath)
- Anything to prevent the loss of prop trading: 'Volcker Rule' Faces New Hurdles (WSJ)
- BOE Sees Case for Keeping Record-Low Rate Beyond 7% Jobless (BBG)
- Obama Backs Piecemeal Immigration Overhaul (WSJ)
- Abenomics Seen Cutting Japan Bad-Loan Costs to 2006 Low (BBG)
- What can possibly go wrong: Tepco Successfully Removes First Nuclear Fuel Rods at Fukushima (BBG)
- Japan's Banks Find It Hard to Lend Easy Money (WSJ)
- U.S. Military Eyes Cut to Pay, Benefits (WSJ)
- Airbus to Boeing Cash In on Desert Outpost Made Field of Dreams (BBG); Dubai Air Show: Boeing leads order books race (BBG)
- Sony sells 1 million PlayStation 4 units in first 24 hours (Reuters)
- Russian Tycoon Prokhorov to Buy Kerimov's Uralkali Stake (WSJ)
- Google Opening Showrooms to Show Off Gadgets for Holidays (BBG)
- Need. Moar. Prop. Trading: Federal Reserve considering a delay to Volcker rule (FT)
- Raghuram Rajan plans ‘dramatic remaking’ of India’s banking system (FT)
- SAC Capital's Steinberg faces insider trading trial (Reuters)
On the surface Goldman's earnings, which just hit the tape at $2.88/share, and which beat expectations of $2.47 - higher than the $2.85 from a year ago - were far better than some of the worst case expectations. That is, until one actually looks at how they were derived. Sadly for Goldman's employees, the EPS beat was not due to a rise in actual revenues, which missed expectations of $7.35 billion massively, printing at $6.72 billion and down 20% from a year ago, but due a slashing in compensation expenses, which were brutalized from $3.7 billion in Q3 2013 and Q2 2013, to "only" $2.4 billion, a 35% Y/Y drop!