The Next (Lack Of) Trading Casualty: Nomura's Brand New $270 Million Trading Floor
Over the past several months (and years) we have been warning that the ongoing collapse in trading volumes, in part due to the lack of faith in capital markets that now have all the integrity of a rigged Vegas casino from the 1960s, in part due to investors' need to monetize assets in a world in which wages simply refuse to keep up with prices, will have not only irreversible implications on the shape of market structure, but also substantial consequences when it comes to the layout of modern banks, and associated up and downstream variables, such a jobs, real estate, support professions, municipal taxes and much more. Nowhere is this more evident (for now at least) than in the massive corporate reorganization taking place at Nomura's American division, which among many other things is about to lose its brand new $270 million trading floor even before a single trader set foot in it.
Reuters explains what we have been predicting for years:
Nomura Holdings' decision to scale back its equity trading business halts its ambitious U.S. growth plans and creates a Manhattan real-estate conundrum for Japan's biggest brokerage.
Nomura said Thursday it will move its equities execution business in the Americas, Asia and Europe to its New York-based Instinet arm as part of a broader cost-cutting plan. It will no longer buy and sell stocks using its own capital, but instead match clients' buy and sell trading orders through Instinet.
The shift reflects a broader effort by brokerage firms to reshape equities operations that have been battered by years of low trading volume and falling commissions. Companies ranging from Bank of America and Goldman Sachs to much smaller firms have been hit, and many have been trimming large, capital-intensive operations.
And while jawboning (so prevalent lately) and threatening of layoffs is one thing, it is something totally different to see what it means in practice:
The firm recently signed a 20-year lease to accommodate the growth it expected in New York. It is moving next July from lower Manhattan into 820,000 square feet spread over 16 floors to a Midtown building called Worldwide Plaza. Nomura has already spent $270 million preparing the space for trading and other operations.
As recently as May, a senior Nomura executive in the United States said the new space would allow the firm to increase staffing by another 50 percent.
That's unlikely to occur. Nomura said Thursday the Americas will bear 21 percent of its cost cuts. Personnel cuts will account for about 45 percent of the global savings, Nomura said. Specific decisions about layoffs have not yet been made, according to a spokesman.
In other words kiss the principal equity trading group goodbye, in process reducing market volumes even futher. So who will survive? The ultra low, flow margin business Instinet which Nomura bought for $1.2 billion in 2007.
For more than a year, equities traders and salespeople had expected Instinet to be folded into Nomura's broader securities operation, which includes research from 17 analysts. The Japanese firm bought Instinet in 2007 for about $1.2 billion, and in the past year has cut about 200 employees to cope with shrinking profits as trading volume and commissions fell industrywide.
Now, though, Nomura's business is being folded into Instinet, which itself recently moved into almost 100,000 square feet on three floors in another Midtown building, which it had leased until August 2020.
Nomura will continue to offer "non-execution" services such as lending to hedge funds, selling convertible securities and offering futures and options through its equities unit, but the majority of its employees are involved in trade execution.
Instinet executes about 5 percent of equities traded in the United States, and expects its market share to grow after the Nomura integration. However, the overall pie is shrinking.
"Agency brokers" such as Instinet, which do not trade with their own capital when buying or selling from clients, generate very thin profit margins that have been squeezed further by three years of declining trading volume and a decade-long plunge in commission costs.
Trading commissions paid by mutual funds, hedge funds and other institutional traders have slipped from about 15 cents a share in the 1970s to less than a penny a share over electronic systems such as Instinet.
Global fees paid by clients for trade executions dropped from $300 billion in 2007 to $220 billion in 2011, according to consulting firm Oliver Wyman.
Considering that Knight's near death experience in the beginning of August resulted in stock volumes dropping to decade lows in the month, all that remains is for Instinet to go dark next, which it most certainly will once the group no longer generates any profits as the race to the margin bottom among agency brokers begins in earnest, which in turn will make the already broken equity market completely uninhabitable and a trading venue merely for Bernanke and his ilk, whereby the Princeton professor does all in his power to push the mark to myth value of America's very much insolvent pensions and retirement accounts into the stratosphere to perpetuate for at least a few more year the illusion that America's welfare state is not totally and utterly broke.
As for Nomura's traders about to start receiving unemployment benefits, we have good news: consider this a first adopter advantage - you will have some extra time to learn valuable skills which none of your competitors currently sitting behind Bloomberg terminals but who too will soon be seeing pink slips, have, and will thus be at least modestly more marketable in a new normal in which nothing is what it used to be.