Two Giants Emerge From Wall Street Ruins
A new order is emerging on Wall Street after the worst crisis since the Great Depression — one in which just a couple of victors are starting to tower over the handful of financial titans that used to dominate the industry.
On Thursday, JPMorgan Chase became the latest big bank to announce stellar second-quarter earnings. Its $2.7 billion profit, after record gains for Goldman Sachs, underscores how the government’s effort to halt a collapse has also set the stage for a narrowing concentration of financial power.
“One theme here is that Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan really have emerged as the winners, as the last of the survivors,” said Robert Reich, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who was secretary of labor in the Clinton administration.
Both banks now stand astride post-bailout Wall Street, having benefited from billions of dollars in taxpayer support and cheap government financing to climb over banks that continue to struggle. They are capitalizing on the turmoil in financial markets and their rivals’ weakness to pull in billions in trading profits.
For the most part, the worst of the financial crisis seems to be over. Yet other large banks, including Citigroup and Bank of America, are still struggling to return to health. Both are expected to report a more profitable quarter on Friday, but a spate of management changes and looming losses from credit cards and commercial real estate have thwarted a stronger recovery.
And then there are the legions of regional and small banks that are falling in greater numbers across the country. While many have racked up large losses, they stand to bleed more red ink if the recession wears on. Fifty-three have failed this year, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation is girding for scores to follow.
Uncertainties over the economy mean that Goldman and JPMorgan may be enjoying a fragile dominance, industry experts said. JPMorgan reported big declines in its consumer business on Thursday, and it has set aside more than $30 billion to cover future losses from surging credit card charge-offs and mortgage and home equity losses.
“Nobody is through this until unemployment turns around,” said Moshe Orenbuch, a Credit Suisse banking analyst.
And if regulation being considered in Washington is passed, banks would face new limits on the amount of their own capital they may trade. That could limit the profits that banks like Goldman and JPMorgan make from their trading businesses, and level the playing field, experts say.
Other former Wall Street stars like Morgan Stanley, which was hurt more by the crisis and has avoided taking big risks in the new era, may also rebound and begin to take on old rivals.But for now, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan are surging. “The stronger players are positioned to take advantage of the crisis and they will dominate clearly in the near term,” said James Reichbach, the head of Deloitte’s United States financial practice.