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.
Gold Prices Rise as Soft Dollar Supports Safe-haven Appeal
Gold prices firmed on Monday, propped up by a subdued dollar and slight retreat in the U.S. Treasury yields, with investors gearing up for a week of speeches from U.S. Federal Reserve policymakers for cues on the central bank’s rate hike path.
Spot gold was up 0.5% at $1,759.06 per ounce, as of 0400 GMT, while U.S. gold futures were up 0.4% at $1,759.00.
While the dollar index softened, the benchmark 10-year Treasury yields eased after hitting their highest since early-July. A weaker dollar offered support to gold prices, making bullion cheaper for holders of other currencies.
“Gold is still looking slightly precarious where it is right now, and it’s probably bouncing off key technical level around $1,750,” IG Market analyst Kyle Rodda said.
“Gold remains an yield story and that yield story is very much tied back to the tapering story.”
A slew of Fed officials are due to speak this week including Chairman Jerome Powell, who will testify this week before Congress on the central bank’s policy response to the pandemic.
“There’ll be a lot of questions being put to Fed speakers about what the dot plots implied last week and weather there is higher risk of heightened inflation going forward and that rate hikes could be coming in the first half of 2022,” Rodda added.
A pair of Federal Reserve policymakers said on Friday they felt the U.S. economy is already in good enough shape for the central bank to begin to withdraw support for the economy.
Gold is often considered a hedge against higher inflation, but a Fed rate hike would increase the opportunity cost of holding gold, which pays no interest.
Investors also kept a close watch on developments in debt-laden property giant China Evergrande saga as the firm missed a payment on offshore bonds last week, with further payment due this week.
Holdings of SPDR Gold Trust, the world’s largest gold-backed exchange-traded fund, increased 0.1% to 993.52 tonnes on Friday from 992.65 tonnes in the prior session.
Silver rose 0.9% to $22.61 per ounce.
Platinum climbed 1.3% to $994.91, while palladium gained 0.7% to $1,985.32.
Brent Crude Oil Near $80 Per Barrel Amid Supply Constraints
Oil prices rose for a fifth straight day on Monday with Brent heading for $80 amid supply concerns as parts of the world sees demand pick up with the easing of pandemic conditions.
Brent crude was up $1.14 or 1.5% at $79.23 a barrel by 0208 GMT, having risen a third consecutive week through Friday. U.S. Oil added $1.11 or 1.5% to $75.09, its highest since July, after rising for a fifth straight week last week.
“Supply tightness continues to draw on inventories across all regions,” ANZ Research said in a note.
Rising gas prices as also helping drive oil higher as the liquid becomes relatively cheaper for power generation, ANZ analysts said in the note.
Caught short by the demand rebound, members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and their allies, known as OPEC+, have had difficulty raising output as under-investment or maintenance delays persist from the pandemic.
China’s first public sale of state oil reserves has barely acted to cap gains as PetroChina and Hengli Petrochemical bought four cargoes totalling about 4.43 million barrels.
India’s oil imports hit a three-month peak in August, rebounding from nearly one-year lows reached in July, as refiners in the second-biggest importer of crude stocked up in anticipation of higher demand.
Oil Holds Near Highest Since 2018 With Global Markets Tightening
Oil held steady near the highest close since 2018, with the global energy crunch set to increase demand for crude as stockpiles fall from the U.S. to China.
Futures in London headed for a third weekly gain. Global onshore crude stocks sank by almost 21 million barrels last week, led by China, according to data analytics firm Kayrros, while U.S. inventories are near a three-year low. The surge in natural gas prices is expected to force some consumers to switch to oil, tightening the market further ahead of the northern hemisphere winter.
China on Friday sold oil to Hengli Petrochemical Co. and a unit of PetroChina Co. in the first auction of crude from its strategic reserves said traders with the knowledge of the matter. Grades sold included Oman, Upper Zakum and Forties.
Oil has rallied recently after a period of Covid-induced demand uncertainty, with some of the world’s largest traders and banks predicting prices may climb further amid the energy crisis. Global crude consumption could rise by an additional 370,000 barrels a day if natural gas costs stay high, according to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
“Underpinning the latest bout of price strength is a tightening supply backdrop,” said Stephen Brennock, an analyst at PVM Oil Associates Ltd.
Various underlying oil market gauges are also pointing to a strengthening market. The key spread between Brent futures for December and a year later is near $7, the strongest since 2019. That’s a sign traders are positive about the market outlook.
At the same time, the premium options traders are paying for bearish put options is the smallest since January 2020, another indication that traders are less concerned about a pullback in prices.
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