We are hearing a lot about “lean” start-ups and are interested to know if you think we’re experiencing a “lean recovery” in established U.S. companies. What are you seeing? We hear that  companies that are pushing current employees to take on bigger tasks and more work and keep delaying any hiring decisions.

I am watching this very interesting trend. Why are Chinese companies so interested in listing in the United States when Asian markets are flowing with capital? I have encouraged North American companies to look to Asia for capital, especially in the natural resources sector since the high growth countries like China are clamoring for resources. However, the trend over the past couple years is Chinese companies raising their capital in the United States. Why?  The skeptic in me thinks, hmmm we couldn’t detect WorldCom, Enron, Madoff till it was in our face and way too late. Do you think the sponsors of these deals are getting quality due diligence done in China to assure investors that everything is on the straight and narrow? I am hopeful, but skeptical. I think this story will become apparent in the coming years. Our markets have had enough set backs and hopefully these foreign companies getting deals done in the United States are legitimate. As a securities analyst, it’s tough to opine on the quality of any of these companies without doing onsite due diligence. A few thousand dollars in airfare, language and culture barriers make my due diligence impossible, so I’ll watch from the sidelines.

Patrick E. Donohue, CFA

In late 2009, Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, told the Times of London, “We help companies to grow by helping them to raise capital. Companies that grow create wealth. This, in turn, allows people to have jobs that create more growth and more wealth. We have a social purpose.” The media really picked up his throwaway comment that they are doing “God’s work”. What I found interesting was the stated social purpose, which I happen to agree with; however, that is not where the revenues and profits are coming for the big investment banks. (Read: Wall Street bonuses, in large part, are not based on this “social purpose”)

What I find so fascinating about studying the world of investment banking is that the percentage of “investment banking” revenues from firms based in the United States that actually comes from Capital Formation is a small number. The vast majority of revenues are essentially balance sheet transactions, or “proprietary trading”.

The next time you read a financial report from an investment bank, look carefully at what percentage of revenue is actually coming from Capital Formation. Directly from the SEC’s website: “The mission of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is to protect investors, maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and facilitate capital formation.” The vast majority of investment banking revenues today come from balance sheet transactions and not facilitating capital formation. I know some will argue that the investment banks need to create and maintain liquidity for the sake of “efficient” markets. Really? Isn’t that what all the other market participants do? Like the ones that have stated investment policies and true fiduciary responsibilities to their stakeholders (like pensions, endowments, mutual funds etc. etc.). Stay tuned, I will post some interesting numbers on what “capital formation” is as a % of revenue for investment banks.
Patrick E. Donohue, CFA