“Principles for the Development of a Complete Mind: Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses - especially learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.” - Leonardo da Vinci If there ever was a time to see how things are connected to other things, it is now. This is particularly true in places where something that is "free" is interpreted to be "without cost." After all, like "free" drinks at the casino, human nature tends to regress to its most lizard-like tendencies when presented with a frictionless environment... When will we ever learn that "free" is never the best price? Anyway, without becoming distracted by a rant about the true cost of Facebook, et al, let's take a brief look at the impact of "commission-free" trading on the macrostructure of the US market ecosystem over a very short window since October 2019: Thanks, in large part, to the popularity of retail broker, Robinhood Financial, LLC ("Robinhood) - the upstart financial [...]
"What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say." - Ralph Waldo Emerson On Thursday, February 20, Morgan Stanley (MS) announced its acquisition of E*Trade (ETFC) for $13 billion in a billiard move that simultaneously 1) responds to the recent move to $zero commissions in retail brokerage; 2) responds to Charles Schwab's recent announcement to acquire primary ETFC competitor TD Ameritrade; 3) boosts MS's position in coveted wealth management channels; 4a) takes greater control of coveted retail order flows - and thus, (4b) away from competitive market making firms, like Citadel Securities and Virtu; 5) takes the last of the major independent discount retailed brokerage platforms off the proverbial table - sorry, Goldman; and 6) arguably completes a dramatic arc of industry evolution and consolidation that began with Schwab's acquisition of CyBerCorp in early 2000 and Citi's acquisition of Lava Trading in 2004... As trick shots go, this one is a doozy! Given that, I wanted to extend some thoughts around recent modeling that we [...]
"Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine." - Alan Turing One by one, those willing to stand and make markets in options are - uh - taking a knee. Back in December (2019), Barclays became the latest in a long string of players - big and nots-so-big - to punt their options trading business to a willing buyer before any more value evaporated. So, we thought to take a closer look at what patterns or signals might exist, if any, to detect moves like this. Here's the setup: It turns out that in a Feed post entitled, "Goldman Sachs and the Long Arc of Hull Trading," we have some useful benchmarking to draw from to frame Barclays' ultimate decision. In the chart, below, Alphacution presents total 13F options position counts for parent entity, Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., over the 45-quarter period beginning Q2 2008. Note: The vast majority of these position reside in the broker-dealer entity, Goldman Sachs [...]
"The book of nature is written in the language of mathematics." - Galileo Galilei As we prepare to turn the page on a new year, and consider what we may want to accomplish during that year, derivatives are on the priority list. Why? Options are important for many reasons from risk management to computational rigor and signal generation. And, if you had been paying close enough attention over the course of this year, you might have noticed that each of our case studies have touched, in one way or another, on options. Now, given that Alphacution is committed to its research providing new pictures to ponder, I wanted to drop the following chart on you with little additional commentary for this go 'round - except to say that the plan right now is to dedicate a full case study to the key players in options trading during 2020. Stay tuned... Until next time...
"What is to give light must endure burning." - Viktor Frankl “The backbone of surprise is fusing speed with secrecy.” – Carl von Clausewitz UPDATE 11/21/2019 (bottom of post) Why is it coming out now, apparently months after the talks took place, that Blackstone inquired about buying a stake in Citadel? There are a few reasons we can think of for monetizing coveted equity - or, at least showing enough leg to solicit an updated "mark" on the assets - but, the most likely one has been the same for years: Ken wants to become an investment bank. Ok, so what does Citadel need to become an investment bank that it doesn't already have? Well, given leadership - and, occasional dominance - in listed equity-linked markets by Citadel, the next beachhead for investment banks-in-training is fixed income. And, Citadel-like prowess in fixed income may require lots of technology and smart folk, but the one thing it definitely needs is balance sheet. The next question, then, is: Do you build [...]
Image Credit: Liu Bolin "The problems are solved, not by giving new information, but by arranging what we have known since long." - Ludwig Wittgenstein It turns out, there is a ton valuable data lying around, hiding in plain sight - just waiting for any fool to come along and turn it into something else, something greater. And, it also turns out that I am one such fool who is captivated - perhaps even obsessed - with solving puzzles (like this 8,000-piece beauty purchased - unassembled - at the Louvre, on the right); turning what usually appears as scraps of data into something much clearer, much bigger, and much more valuable - like a piece of art. So, you might imagine my excited anticipation to finally work on unlocking some of the value contained in 13F holdings reports. (I know, right?! Who isn't?) Here's the gist: Basically, all institutional investors - whether they be public or private entities - with discretion over $100 million or more of US equity assets [...]
Alphacution defines technical leverage as the difference between revenue per employee (RPE) and technology spending per employee. In the parlance of our T-Greeks benchmarking framework, this difference is also known as T-Spread. I stumbled over the chart below - 50 companies in the S&P 500 with the highest RPE rankings for 2016 - recently and thought it would be notable to add to the knowledgebase. Since our modeling and analysis currently focuses exclusively on companies related to the financial services sector, much of what we find in this exhibit provides illuminating context. Source: Craft Clearly, energy and healthcare companies dominate the RPE metric, with 3 companies producing astonishing RPE levels greater than $5 million. Only 3 companies from the Financials sector (2 insurance - Aflac, XL Group; and, 1 exchange - CME Group) make this list. From our own modeling, the highest RPE we have found to date is Virtu Financial - a high-frequency trading firm - with a 2016 RPE of $2.8 million. Among the world's major banking groups, Goldman Sachs [...]
Brain drain - in this case meaning the loss of valuable human capital - is one of those silent malignancies in an organization that is difficult to measure, and the impacts from which are typically not realized until the damage has already been done. With the global banking sector - and its constituent business segments, from retail banking to wealth management to capital markets - still in the midst of unprecedented and persistent transformation, the risk of ongoing losses of intellectual capital and corporate memory that leave via the elevator each day is still quite high - or, at least, it is perceived to be so. (The knock-on effects to the supply chain are notable here, as well.) It is largely for this reason that we have been monitoring and measuring various headcount-dependent metrics in the financial services ecosystem: Interesting and telling on a per-company basis, fascinating and illuminating of broader trends on a composite basis. The former being a weaker intelligence signal, the latter being a much stronger signal. So, here's [...]
Well, it would have been the Top 10 investment banks, but @Barclays doesn't publish quarterly headcount for some reason. Maybe they will help us fix that. Anyway, for the Top 9 investment banks, total headcount is down 13% from its peak in Q3 2011. And, with at least 2 of the 9 - @Deutsche Bank and @CreditSuisse - reporting significant headcount reductions for the road ahead as part their year-end 2016 financial releases and 2017 guidance, it's not much of a stretch for us to predict that the Wonkavator is highly likely to travel further back in time than year-end 2006 (see below). I just want to let this picture dangle for a bit without much comment. We will be revisiting and significantly expanding this analysis in the weeks and months ahead as we roll into the development of our 2nd Annual Global Bank Technology Spending study. Stay tuned...
If you are only interested in reading hyperbole-laced stories about the latest shiny things in #fintech innovation, then what follows is not for you. But, if you actually care about innovation that results in real impacts, then we invite you to keep reading. From the following angle, something changed around mid-2012 at @GoldmanSachs. Arguably, the groundwork for such change was laid prior to that time, but the impact of that groundwork (at least to observers like us) didn't become noticeable until the end of Q2-2012 when a metric that we are starting to track much more closely began to break out. Here's the setup: In an article published on February 7, 2016 by MIT Technology Review, "As Goldman Embraces Automation, Even the Masters of the Universe Are Threatened," a key statement made by Marty Chavez, the company’s soon-to-be chief financial officer and former chief information officer, caught our eye: "Goldman has already mapped 146 distinct steps taken in any initial public offering of stock, and many are 'begging to be automated.'" Our [...]