Yea they’re too big… too big to fail. Or, are they?

Today’s roster of top tier bulge banks holds some of the most colossal and well-known institutions in finance. JPMorgan Chase & Co., Deutsche Bank, Citigroup Inc., Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs; a few names that everyone’s heard, and almost everyone has an opinion about (usually in regards to their size). Of late, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley have been receiving the majority of media flack with the whole $2B trade loss and Facebook equity underwriting investigation.

Though one bank has been doing a very good job at laying low for the past few months, and it wasn’t long ago that Goldman Sachs could hardly keep itself out of the news for more than five minutes. So one must wonder now, without the media blowing them up left and right, what has this large investment bank been up to?

A CNBC article answered this question by revealing that the bank has been doing a good job of being well, not so large. This fall, the firm is said to name less than 100 new partners; a group of higher ups at the firm that's shrinking steadily. After scrupulous vetting of these potential hires, the selected few are compensated handsomely (senior partner and CEO Blankfein pulled in an annual salary of $12 million in 2011) while gaining access to prestigious jobs at the firm. This alone would make one question why over the past year Goldman has seen a steady exodus of those employees fortunate enough to hold partner positions at the bank.

After reducing its total employee count by about 8 percent in the last year, as well as laying off about 50 last week, it’s clear that something is amiss with the firms growth pattern. As Goldman deflates as a whole in size, the heft of its partnership base usually lessens in congruence.

So where is this drastic size reduction coming from? Greece.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about how a potential Greek euro exit would likely affect the US. One of the main concerns was that it could set in motion a widespread panic amongst investors, who would then impulsively retract their allocated capital. Today, a Bloomberg article showed evidence of this theory starting to make its presence known.

The piece provided insight about how European turmoil is directly correlated to success amongst the investment banking industry. More specifically, the article looks at Greece and their potential abandonment of the euro for a return back to the drachma.

A Goldman analyst showed last week that for a third year straight, revenue from investment banking and trading is in danger of dropping at least 30 percent from the first quarter. The deadly combination of deal volume slowing, wider credit spreads, heightened volatility, and equity and credit markets falling, can all be traced back to fears of a Greek euro exit, followed by the spread of the European sovereign-debt crisis. These ingredients are the direct result of investors putting themselves into a defensive monetary state over the aforementioned euro woes.

This tension is taking its toll on the paychecks of investment bank employees, as 11 analysts reduced earnings estimates for the New York based Goldman Sachs in the past four weeks. The question now is whether these declines are cyclical, or indicative of a general phasing out of the investment banking industry. Boston Consulting Group, Inc. stated in late April that banks of this kind will see very little revenue growth during the next few years and will be forced to cut up to 30 percent of their managers.

Jamie Dimon and Lloyed C. Blankfein, CEOs of JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs respectively, are in adamant agreeance that this is, of course, is nothing more than a phase and the industry will undoubtedly bounce back. David Konrad, an analyst at KBW Inc. in New York, gives a bit of hope to the fighting back of these banks by pointing out that due to their large amounts of capital and strong liquidity, any program coming out of Europe that the market responds positively to will inevitably have a bold impact on valuations. He recalls how stocks have been known to jump up to 30 percent on just a bit of breathing room.

So could all of this drastic shrinking represent the end of the age where grand investment banks rule the financial industry?  Or is it in fact no more than a shock absorption effect occurring as they bend to accommodate European turmoil? As we all know, yes, they are big. But are they really too big to fail?



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