FICC It Where the Sun Don't Shine: Michael P. Regan

So it was a surprising quarter for Wall Street earnings. The traditionally more boring banks like Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Bank of America seemed to be thriving, while the exciting studs like JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs hit a rough stretch as their Masters of the Universe bond traders lost a little mojo.

Why, it’s as if the Yankees were catching up on their golf in October while the Mets were making a run at the pennant. Oh wait...

If you didn’t have a chance to listen to all the conference calls and read all the releases, then you should first congratulate yourself for having a life. Secondly, you can catch up with some of the key takeaways here:

  • Declining legal expenses make the banks look a bit like Lindsay Lohan: They’re not getting in as much trouble as they used to, but would anyone be all that surprised if there’s a new mug shot soon?
  • If you’re a bond trader trying to plan your bonus-season spending: sure, you may have rubbed elbows with kings and queens in Majorca in the past, but you can still be treated like royalty at the Royal Court Motel in Wildwood, New Jersey! Think Zales, not Harry Winston. And sure, everyone loves a good German sports car. But Porsches are a bit pretentious, no? Especially when you can get a great bargain on a Volkswagen diesel these days?
  • Brick-and-mortar bank branches are becoming endangered species as the apps take over. It’s soon going to be harder for Citibank customers to find a branch in Boston than it is to find red clam chowder -- or a Yankee fan -- in Boston. At Bank of America, digital sales jumped 30 percent and the firm is booking 15,000 appointments a week off mobile devices. The Thundering Herd at Merrill Lynch must be all like OMG this is GR8.
  • If you’re a woman who’s married to a bond trader and expecting a "wife bonus" early next year: Just relax and try to remember why you married him in the first place. And same thing if you’re a man who’s married to a bond trader and expecting a "husband bonus." As for you, Governor Christie: you should’ve realized that Mary Pat would have to quit her job when you decided to run for president!
  • Headcounts keep trending lower. Down 6 percent at Bank of America. Down by 10,000 year-to-date at JPMorgan. Except at Goldman Sachs, where the ranks are up 10 percent to a post-recession high of 36,900. Maybe they’re adding security to keep the riff raff out of the elevator? Of course, who knows what that headcount number will look like if they keep making analysts take those pesky tests!
  • If you’re the executive of a big bank like Goldman Sachs and your fixed income, currency and commodities (FICC) trading was very weak, even though many of your competitors are shrinking that part of their business while you’re not so you’d seem to be in a position to benefit if markets go haywire, note that analyst Glenn Schorr of Evercore ISI has a "smell test" for you. So, you know, plan your bathing schedule accordingly.
  • If you’re a credit card user in Mexico, Citigroup would like to alert you to a problem with your account: The balance is a bit low. You can rectify this immediately by going on a shopping spree.

Anyway, hang in there Yankees and bond traders. And remember: Bethpage Black is a more challenging course than Liberty National anyway.

(This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.)

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