Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and other banks that invest in companies are officially on notice: The Federal Reserve wants that ability taken away.
Among several recommendations issued by U.S. banking regulators, one from the Fed urged Congress to prohibit merchant banking, in which firms buy stakes in companies rather than lend them money. In a report released Thursday, the agency also pushed for limits on Wall Street’s ownership of physical commodities after lawmakers accused Goldman Sachs and other banks of seizing unfair advantages in metal and energy markets in recent years.
The report — based on a multi-agency study of banks’ investment activities required by the Dodd-Frank Act — highlighted ways to fix potential risks that regulators didn’t think were handled by the law’s Volcker Rule ban on certain trading and investments. The need for Congress to pass legislation presents the greatest hurdle to the Fed’s recommendations on merchant-banking and the ability of Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to operate mines, warehouse aluminum and ship oil.
“Congress has an obligation to give their recommendations serious attention,” U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, the most senior Democrat on the Banking Committee, said in a statement.
A 2014 Senate investigation into banks’ commodities businesses revealed Goldman Sachs had almost $15 billion in merchant banking investments. The firm’s most recent filings show it booked $1.2 billion in revenue through the first six months of this year in its division that houses merchant banking, with equity investments contributing $626 million of that.
Another agency that participated in issuing the report, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, said it plans to restrict lenders’ holdings of the hard-to-value securities. The OCC also proposed a rule Thursday that would curtail banks’ investments in certain industrial metals including copper and aluminum.
The Fed called for the repeal of exemptions for industrial loan companies, which are lenders generally owned by non-financial firms, that allow them to operate outside of rules that affect banks. The Fed’s section of the report said its aim was to level the playing field among financial firms and “help ensure the separation of banking and commerce.”
Spokesmen for Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase & Co. — another bank that could be affected by the recommendations — declined to comment on the regulators’ report.
A coalition of financial industry associations called the recommendations “unfortunate and ill-considered” in a statement. The groups — including the Clearing House Association, American Bankers Association and Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association — said merchant banking has financed startups and fueled job growth. The groups also argued that it hasn’t been shown to pose a risk to the financial system.
The Fed and the U.S. Treasury Department adopted a merchant-banking rule in 2001 after the 1999 Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act gave banks the right to make such investments. But making statutory changes to merchant banking and other industry laws would require intervention from lawmakers — a tall order in a politically-divided Congress that has passed only a few significant bills affecting the financial system in recent years. That leaves any immediate impact of the report in doubt.
The Fed, OCC and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. were required by Dodd-Frank to dig into further risks from bank investments, and they were supposed to issue the report almost five years ago.
The document was called for by a provision tucked more than 200 pages into Dodd-Frank under section 620. Lenders’ government watchdogs had to review the industry’s investment activities to determine whether they “could have a negative effect on the safety and soundness” of the financial system. But the mandate was easy to lose track of next to the passage that preceded it: section 619, which is better known as the Volcker Rule.
Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan were the targets of criticism that led to the 2014 Senate review of their commodities businesses. It found lenders used their ownership of metals and other physical commodities to dominate markets and gain unfair trading advantages. The physical commodities businesses at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley were protected by grandfathering that allowed them wider abilities than most banks — an advantage the Fed is seeking to end.
Morgan Stanley sold off its oil business last year and backed away from industrial metals trading, while JPMorgan shed a big part of its physical commodities business in 2014. While Goldman Sachs dumped a coal-mining operation in 2015, Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein has maintained that commodities trading is a “core” part of his firm’s business.
Oil prices have rebounded strongly over the last few days – up around 10% from the lows – buoyed by the prospect of a lower price cap on Russian crude
By Craig Erlam, Senior Market Analyst, UK & EMEA, OANDA
We’re seeing green flashing across the board on Thursday, with sentiment buoyed by positive signals on Fed rate hikes and China’s Covid response.
While it could be argued that Jerome Powell’s comments on Wednesday were relatively balanced – slower tightening now but rates high for longer – the last year has proven that anticipating the path of inflation even a short period ahead is incredibly difficult. Knowing what the Fed intends to do next is far more valuable than what it thinks it may do 6-12 months down the line.
And anything that is perceived to reduce to possibility of an interest rate recession is going to be a positive for equity markets. The Fed has every opportunity to tighten more in the months ahead if the data doesn’t play ball. What’s far more difficult is undoing the damage caused by moving too fast now with little to no visibility on how impactful past tightening has been.
The signals coming from China also look very positive. While we shouldn’t expect a dramatic shift in policy from the leadership, particularly before the March Congress, any modest softening in its Covid-zero policy will and should be welcomed. The approach has been extremely damaging to growth and confidence and the protests highlight how public opinion towards it is changing.
We shouldn’t be naive to the fact that a move away from the policy won’t be easy and there’ll be plenty of setbacks. But it’s certainly a step in the right direction that, along with the measures announced to revive the property market, could put the economy on a much better path.
A huge few days for oil markets
Oil prices have rebounded strongly over the last few days – up around 10% from the lows – buoyed by the prospect of a lower price cap on Russian crude, another large production cut from OPEC+ this weekend, and China’s evolving Covid stance. There remains considerable uncertainty surrounding all of the above though which will likely ensure prices remain volatile going into the weekend. That could carry more risk than normal if the OPEC+ meeting does go ahead as planned on Sunday and the EU hasn’t agreed to the price cap level by the close of play Friday. The range of possibilities on these two things alone is huge which will make rumours and speculation over the coming day or two all the more impactful.
Gold testing range highs
Gold bulls were particularly happy with Powell’s comments on Wednesday with the yellow metal rallying strongly to trade at the upper end of its recent range. It faces strong resistance around $1,780 though which was a significant level of support in the first half of the year. With so much data to come over the next day or so, it may not prove particularly resilient if traders are given further hope that rates will rise more slowly and peak lower.
Some relief for cryptos
The risk relief rally is coming at just the right time for bitcoin, helping it to recover from the lows to trade around $17,000. This is around the highs of the last few weeks since it settled after its latest plunge. Whether it will be enough to revive interest in the cryptocurrency, I’m not sure. The FTX fallout is continuing to weigh heavily on the space and the prospect of more contagion or scandals is hard to ignore.
Oil Revenue into Foreign Reserve Dropped From $3bn Monthly in 2014 to Zero in 2022
The official foreign exchange receipt from crude oil sales into Nigeria’s official reserves has dried up steadily from above US$3.0 billion monthly in 2014 to an absolute zero dollar today, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, Godwin Emefiele disclosed.
Speaking at the 57th annual bankers’ dinner organized by the Chartered Institute of bankers of Nigeria (CIBN) in Lagos, the CBN governor noted that there has been a significant loss in foreign reserves due to the naira’s struggle and the rise in demand for forex.
He added that the sharp increase in the number of Nigerians who are seeking education in foreign countries particularly the UK has resulted in an unprecedented demand for foreign exchange.
According to him, the number of student visas issued to Nigerians by the UK alone has increased from an annual average of about 8,000 visas as of 2020 to nearly 66,000 in 2022.
Emefiele also lamented about the level of crude oil theft in Nigeria which has significantly affected the country’s oil production. He noted that crude oil theft has adversely impacted the Country’s foreign exchange reserves.
Investors King had earlier reported that Nigeria has lost its coveted position as Africa’s largest oil producer after oil production dropped below the mark of 1 million barrels per day.
Nigeria currently trails Angola, Libya and Algeria to the fourth position.
Meanwhile, on the Naira-4-Dollar scheme which the CBN introduced to boost migrant remittances into the Nigerian economy, the CBN governor noted that the scheme has largely been successful.
“I am happy to note that, so far, the Naira-for-Dollar scheme has been successful in increasing remittance inflows through our registered International Money Transfer Organisation (IMTOs),” he said.
Emefiele also noted that the introduction of the National Domestic Card Scheme (NDCS) will help to reduce the operating cost incurred by commercial banks while using foreign cards.
It could be recalled that the CBN earlier announced that it planned to introduce Nigeria-made transactional cards to replace well-known cards such as Visa and MasterCard.
Crude Oil Gained 2% as U.S. Oil Inventories Dipped Last Week
Crude oil appreciated on Tuesday on signs global supply is declining amid better-than-expected optimism on Chinese economic recovery and a weaker dollar.
But the likelihood that OPEC+ will leave output unchanged at its upcoming meeting limited the gains.
Brent crude futures rose $2.06, or 2.48% to $85.09 per barrel by 1044 GMT. The more active February Brent crude contract rose by 2.02% to $85.95.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures climbed $1.69, or 2.16%, to $79.89.
Support followed expectations of tighter crude supply.
U.S. crude oil stocks dropped by 7.9 million barrels in the week ended Nov. 25, according to market sources citing American Petroleum Institute figures on Tuesday.
Official figures are due from the U.S Energy Information Administration on Wednesday.
And the International Energy Agency expects Russian crude production to be curtailed by some 2 million barrels of oil per day by the end of the first quarter next year, its chief Fatih Birol told Reuters on Tuesday.
On the demand side, further support came from optimism over a demand recovery in China, the world’s largest crude buyer.
China reported fewer COVID-19 infections than on Tuesday, while the market speculated that weekend protests could prompt an easing in travel restrictions.
Guangzhou, a southern city, relaxed COVID prevention rules in several districts on Wednesday.
A fall in the U.S. dollar was also bearish for prices. A weaker greenback makes dollar-denominated oil contracts cheaper for holders of other currencies, and boosts demand.
Fed Chair Jerome Powell is scheduled to speak about the economy and labour market on Wednesday, with investors looking for clues about when the Fed will slow the pace of its aggressive interest rate hikes.
Capping gains, the OPEC+ decision to hold its Dec. 4 meeting virtually signals little likelihood of a policy change, a source with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Wednesday.
“Market fundamentals favour another cut, especially given the uncertainty over China’s COVID situation … Failure to do so risks sparking another selling frenzy,” said Stephen Brennock of oil broker PVM.
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