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Big Banks Are About to Get Blasted by the Volcker Rule
When the Volcker Rule regulations go into effect next year, its restrictions could slam the revenue of the fixed income trading operations of several major U.S. banks by as much as 25%.
The Volker Rule is one of the elements required by the Dodd-Frank financial oversight law, which was written to rein in the sort of excessive Wall Street risk-taking that led to the financial crisis of 2008.
A draft version of the rule was released this week by the U.S. Federal Reserve, which was approved by both the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) on Tuesday and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) yesterday (Wednesday).
The rule aims to ban proprietary trading, in which the banks traded for their own benefit rather than for the benefit of their customers, but also will address other areas such as hedge fund investing.
Since a significant chunk of the big banks' profits – especially that of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE: GS) and Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS) – come from various forms of proprietary trading, the Volcker Rule stands to cost the industry billions in revenue.
To prevent cheating, complex compliance rules will require that banks prove that all their trading activities are for clients' benefit, and not proprietary. Compliance alone is expected to tack on another $2 billion in costs.
"[The Volcker Rule will] diminish the flexibility and profitability of banks' valuable market-making operations and place them at a competitive disadvantage to firms not constrained by the rule," noted a report by Moody's Corp. (NYSE: MCO).
The rule is named for former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, who has made the case that such regulations are needed.
The new regulations will deal another blow to an already-struggling industry, which has watched earnings sag as a result of a falloff in equity trading volume, weak demand for loans, and costly legal headaches.
Although there's still time for the Volcker Rule to be tweaked before it takes effect on July 21, 2012, it will fundamentally change how the big banks operate.
The rule's impact on Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley will be particularly brutal, especially if the final version imposes broader restrictions.
The "Currency Manipulator" That's About to Put 3 Million Americans Back to Work
Think U.S. jobs are destined to drain away to China forever? Think U.S. unemployment will grow and grow while cheap overseas labor supplants American workers? Think your children will be forced to work selling Big Macs to Chinese billionaires?
Well, boy has the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) got news for you.
The United States' No. 1 strategic consultancy's latest study shows 2 million to 3 million manufacturing jobs and about $100 billion in output can be expected to return to the United States from China by 2020.
That's right. China, so often the scapegoat for U.S. joblessness – and an alleged "currency manipulator" – actually is becoming our best ally in the fight against high unemployment.
The BCG team says three things will bring millions of Chinese jobs back to America:
- Soaring Inflation. China's annual inflation pulled back to 6.2% in August after hitting a three-year high in July. It's rumored that the People's Bank of China will allow the yuan to rise further to curb rising prices. A stronger currency will make the country's exports and labor less competitive.
- Rising Wages. Chinese labor is steadily becoming better educated and more affluent. The central government is targeting an increase in minimum wages of 13% a year through 2015.
- And A Stronger Yuan. The yuan has risen about 30% against the dollar since 2005. Again, the great motivator here is not the saber rattling of U.S. politicians, but rather troubling levels of inflation that could spur civil unrest.
Made in the U.S.A. (Again)
Indeed, Chinese manufacturing, which had been much cheaper than U.S. manufacturing for the last decade or so, is suddenly less competitive in certain sectors.
This should come as a huge relief for Americans.
Modern telecommunications and the Internet revolution made it easier and cheaper than ever before to run a global supply chain. Consequently, U.S. manufacturing was priced out of the market.
We saw it first in cheap clothing – a highly labor-intensive industry where U.S. factories were already struggling.
The move to Chinese clothing sourcing, pushed into overdrive by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT), brought immense cost benefits to U.S. consumers. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics price index for apparel has declined by 15% in nominal terms since 1993, compared with a 50% increase in consumer prices as a whole.
U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and his predecessor, Alan Greenspan, helped this process along with their ultra soft money policies. We haven't had much inflation because of the price declines brought by outsourcing, but for many years it has been exceptionally cheap to raise money for investment in emerging markets. China and other emerging markets already had a cost advantage in cheap labor, and the Fed's loose monetary policies further encouraged outsourcing.
As a result, U.S. workers can now buy cheaper clothes from China through Wal-Mart, but are losing jobs and being forced to accept lower wages. And since Bernanke cannot be persuaded to reverse policy and raise interest rates, it was beginning to look as though U.S. jobs would drain away until American wages were at Chinese, or even African, levels.
However, the BCG report is a very welcome sign that this process could actually be coming to an end. Chinese wages have risen so much that U.S. labor is now competitive when its higher productivity and lower transport costs are taken into account.
Two Ways To Add Income to Your Portfolio as a Currency Investor
For the past 30 years, my grandfather has been living the retirement dream, thanks to a few strategic stock plays.
Here's the interesting part: My grandfather never knew a thing about stocks. He didn't know how to value them, or when to buy and sell.
But he did know the power of income.
You see, as a child of the Great Depression he saw stocks differently than we do today.
His generation didn't buy stocks for the possible capital appreciation.
Instead, they bought stocks based on the dividend yield – and the consistency of that dividend.
They had lived through uncertain times, so they only trusted investments that offered fairly certain income.
That's why now, as we find ourselves back in uncertain markets, you want to make sure your portfolio includes interest-bearing and dividend-yielding assets.
Passive dividend income arrives no matter what's happening in Greece, or how long U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke decides to hold rates at record lows. It comes as long as the company remains strong.
Which means my grandfather's strategy is worth copying.
How to Live Comfortably During Uncomfortable Times
My grandfather started with certificate of deposits (CDs) in the late 1970s and early 1980s. These were the high-interest days, so these CDs paid 16% to18% interest. He got that nice, passive "certain" income for as long as that party lasted.
Then once interest rates dropped and all his CDs matured, he looked for the next round of certain income. He had just retired from the telecom industry and believed AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) was a good long-term play.
Best of all, AT&T paid a 6% dividend yield. So he wisely invested his CD income into AT&T stock and then sat back and waited.
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Seven Prospective Corporate Bankruptcies
Ten companies with at least $100 million in assets filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last month – the most since April when 17 such companies filed. So far in October five more big companies have filed, including Friendly Ice Cream Corp. and Open Range Communications Inc.
They join a list this year that includes Borders Group Inc. (PINK: BGPIQ), paper manufacturer NewPage Corp., skin-cream maker Graceway Pharmaceuticals and the notorious solar panel manufacturer Solyndra Inc.
In fact, 2011 has been the worst year for corporate bankruptcies since 2009, when the financial crisis touched off by the Lehman Brothers' collapse caused a record number of filings.
"It's getting busier for everyone I know," Jay Goffman, co-head of the Global Restructuring Group at law firm Skadden Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, told Reuters. "I think 2012 will be a busy year and 2013 and 2014 will be extraordinarily busy years in restructuring."
With many companies already struggling and experts warning that the U.S. economy is headed for another recession, odds are that the pace of corporate bankruptcies will accelerate.
Of course, when a publicly traded company goes bankrupt, the stock becomes essentially worthless, with bondholders and other creditors splitting up whatever is left of the company.
That's what happened to shareholders of General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) when it declared bankruptcy in 2009. The old stock lost all value, while the reborn GM held an initial public offering (IPO) for a new stock trading with the former symbol.
While the mess angered those left holding old GM stock, that's one of the risks of buying equities. You don't want to be an investor who holds on to a dying company too long, or worse, buys a company expecting a turnaround that instead turns south.
So as an investor it behooves you know which companies are endangered. And while there may still be time for these companies to change course, right now they're on the road to bankruptcy.
Derivatives: The $600 Trillion Time Bomb That's Set to Explode
Do you want to know the real reason banks aren't lending and the PIIGS have control of the barnyard in Europe?
It's because risk in the $600 trillion derivatives market isn't evening out. To the contrary, it's growing increasingly concentrated among a select few banks, especially here in the United States.
In 2009, five banks held 80% of derivatives in America. Now, just four banks hold a staggering 95.9% of U.S. derivatives, according to a recent report from the Office of the Currency Comptroller.
Derivatives played a crucial role in bringing down the global economy, so you would think that the world's top policymakers would have reined these things in by now – but they haven't.
Instead of attacking the problem, regulators have let it spiral out of control, and the result is a $600 trillion time bomb called the derivatives market.
Think I'm exaggerating?
The notional value of the world's derivatives actually is estimated at more than $600 trillion. Notional value, of course, is the total value of a leveraged position's assets. This distinction is necessary because when you're talking about leveraged assets like options and derivatives, a little bit of money can control a disproportionately large position that may be as much as 5, 10, 30, or, in extreme cases, 100 times greater than investments that could be funded only in cash instruments.
world's gross domestic product (GDP) is only about $65 trillion, or roughly 10.83% of the worldwide value of the global derivatives market, according to The Economist. So there is literally not enough money on the planet to backstop the banks trading these things if they run into trouble.
Energy Investors Pocket Profit on Oil Price Rally – And It's Just the Beginning
Investors in energy stocks are enjoying an oil price rally that continued for a fifth trading session yesterday (Tuesday), pulling many oil-related investments up with it.
U.S. oil futures rose 40 cents to $85.81 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX). Black gold has climbed 12% since hitting a 52-week low of $76 a barrel last week – a 37% fall from its April high near $120 a barrel.
Brent crude oil futures rose 1.6% to $110.73 a barrel for a five-day gain of 11% — the biggest since August 2009.
This week's gains follow on the heels of a recent slump – but subscribers to our Private Briefing service knew this would be the case.
We forecast the oil markets short-term pullback in our early Private Briefing columns and told investors to take advantage of the crude oil sell-off while energy stock prices were low.
Sure enough, these recommended stocks are climbing as oil prices are once again on the rise:
- The oil-related stock we highlighted it Aug. 12 in "How to Profit From $120-a-Barrel Oil …" is up 2.7% from that day's closing price.
- The high-return energy play our Global Macro Trends Specialist Jack Barnes detailed on Aug. 19 in "The Energy Stock to Buy Now…", is up 14% this week.
- And the favorite low-risk natural gas stock that resources specialist Peter Krauth shared Sept. 15 in "A "Dream Pick' in the U.S. Energy Sector", has gained 4.2% during the oil futures five-day price rally.
Executive Editor William Patalon III checked in this week with global energy expert Dr. Kent Moors, who gave an update on the latest profit opportunities and oil price outlook – as well as a juicy new stock pick.