Wall Street's big three still rule

Despite all the rumblings in Congress, nothing has changed as Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley reap profits.

By TheStreet Staff Nov 11, 2009 4:17PM

TheStreet.comBy Daniel Dicker, TheStreet.com


Sometimes cynicism will serve you well as a trader. Right now, the big investment banks look still like great opportunities based on a cynic's view.


Very few stocks during the run from the March lows offered better return opportunities than the major investment banks. Goldman Sachs (GS), for example, after falling below $50 a share before the start of the year, closed on Tuesday at $176.51. Morgan Stanley, at one point thought to be as risk for a “Lehman-like” dissolution, had been priced at under $7, but closed at $33.70.

These institutions didn't see the end that some predicted for them. It now appears certain that these two, along with powerhouse JPMorgan Chase, will be the three strongest investment banks survivors of last year's carnage.



And here's where the cynicism starts to figure in. With all the anger, bailout money, Congressional hearings and proposed legislation, it seems clear that the mechanisms that allowed these banks to make outsized profits from easy leveraged capital and monopolized derivative markets are still firmly in place and unlikely to change.


Profits for the biggest banks are poised to break all records in this recession year. Bloomberg News predicts Goldman, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan to award $30 billion in bonuses this year, up 60% from last year and the highest since 2007.


We can all be outraged at this, and we should be. But, better yet, we should try to make some money from the situation instead.


Trading from derivatives is still driving profits banked by the big three, particularly in fixed income. So every financially distressed commercial entity and municipality had to look to the same banks that had abandoned them last year when they sought necessary refinancing and revitalization.


Commodities traders are on track to deliver their best year ever. With oil zooming from a low of $35 a barrel to a high of $82 in less than eight months, it is clear that volatility is the key to high profits, not prices. Both Goldman and Morgan Stanley have said 2009 will be "particularly strong" as they continue to refrain from quoting hard numbers.


If you're like the rest of the American people, this can only make you mad. But, you can't get even. So, if you can't beat 'em, maybe it's best to join 'em and buy these two powerhouse stocks.


But, because they've run so much, there's timing involved and here's how to work it.


Whenever there's talk of reform bills and regulation from Congress, the shares of these two banks take a hit. This happened when talk of a bill sponsored by Rep. Barney Frank, a Democrat from Massachusetts, made the rounds in the media in the past week. We saw Morgan Stanley slide down from $35 to $32, and Goldman go from about $187 a share to closer to $170.


These bills, which are still in Congressional committees, will re-emerge in the spotlight again in the next two weeks. That will be your opportunity to buy in to these three great Wall Street titans.


That's because after all the bills, committees and posturing, nothing is going to materially change. And these three banks will continue to control 97% of the derivatives market and the profits from it, as they did before the crisis began.


You could stay mad -- but the cynical trader in me says that you might as well look to get in on the action.


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Americans disengage from managing money




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