High Line Advisors LLC

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What constitutes a “full-service” Equities business?

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[Part 4 of Equities Context and Content]

Mature Equities businesses offer a complete array of products and services under the umbrella of Equities. The full-service Equities model incorporates five diversified business lines, each of which has a set of products and services that capture revenue in various forms:

  1. NEW ISSUE
    Origination business based on corporate relationships, resulting in direct underwriting and placement fees and indirect revenues from investor clients seeking to participate in their allocation. Examples include: common and preferred equity, convertible bonds, and private placements.
  2. FLOW
    Agency risk transfer business resulting in commissions and the potential for reduced expenses due to internalization. Examples include: “high-touch” and/or electronic order handling in cash equities and listed derivatives.
  3. BALANCE SHEET
    Financing businesses resulting in accrual of spreads in excess of cost of funding. Examples include: prime brokerage, securities lending, repo, and OTC derivatives.
  4. CAPITAL
    Principal trading businesses, including market-making and client facilitation, resulting in revenues from bid/offer spreads and directional risk-taking. Examples include: underwriting, block trading, aspects of program trading, listed options market-making, and certain proprietary trading strategies.
  5. SERVICES
    Low-risk, operationally-intensive agency business resulting in fee income tied to balances or transactions. Examples include: custody, administration, cash and collateral management.

 

A comprehensive offering allows such firms to compete globally for all client segments and to address the entire available revenue pool. As shown in Table 2, McKinsey estimates the global revenues that may be directly linked to Equities at over $120 billion in 2010.

Figure 2 illustrates the five Equities business lines in a way that circumscribes the revenue pool:

Table 2

Table 2: Equities-related revenue pools / Figure 2: Equities revenue map

Diversification can reduce earnings volatility and reliance on new issue activity. Of the five dimensions, flow commissions in cash and derivatives account for 39% of the pool, a fact that leads all competing firms to focus on execution capability. With more than twice as much revenue at stake overall, diversified firms not only access the related pools, but may also have an advantage competing for flow.

The capabilities or limitations of a larger firm directly impacts the ability of its Equities business to compete in each of the five dimensions. For example, the firm’s ability to allocate balance sheet and capital to its Equities business allows Equities to offer financing products or to carry inventory in convertible bonds. Similarly, Corporate Banking could drive new issue supply through the Equities business via its capital markets efforts.

Written by highlineadvisors

November 9, 2011 at 12:41 pm

Why does the firm context matter?

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[Part 3 of Equities Context and Content]

There are five bank or broker-dealer businesses that can significantly enhance a firm’s Equities business. The capabilities and resources “owned” by these other business units can provide a competitive advantage in attracting equity investors:

  • CORPORATE BANKING
    Direct lending and corporate finance can produce two of the resources most valued by investors: new issues and access to corporate management. The Equities business can in turn provide market color on previously-issued equities and related derivatives to bankers and their corporate clients, earning mandates for share repurchases and block trades. The two business units can also share the cost of Research within applicable regulatory limitations.
  • PRIVATE WEALTH MANAGEMENT
    Retail can be a powerful contributor to an Equities business through the direction of order flow and stock loan balances. A captive source of liquidity and commissions provides a boost to the sales and trading unit, and a unique supply of hard-to-borrow securities can differentiate the prime brokerage unit. A retail distribution network may be viewed favorably by both corporate clients awarding new issues and block trades, and asset managers seeking capital.
  • TRADING IN OTHER GLOBAL MARKETS ASSET CLASSES
    Trading capabilities in complimentary asset classes can provide research, market color, and occasional trade facilitation for equity investors. Single-name credit products such as corporate bonds and credit default swaps can provide investors with deeper insight into corporate capital structures. Index, currency, and rate products offer investors a means to hedge macro exposures in their portfolios. Commodities trading expertise can also provide macro insights as well as deeper understanding of companies in the energy, agriculture, and metals sectors. Broader trading capabilities can provide solutions for cash and liquidity management in repo, government securities, and corporate commercial paper.
  • CUSTODIAL/TRANSACTION BANKING
    Custodial Banking can strengthen relationships with both corporate and investor clients. On the corporate side, credit lines, treasury services, cash management, and payments processing can lead to increased access to management and participation in new issues. On the investor side, clearing, collateral management, custody, securities services, and fund administration can result in operational dependencies between the firm and its investor clients. Banks with a deposit base may enjoy a higher credit rating, thereby enhancing the ability of an Equity business to compete in prime brokerage and over-the-counter derivatives.
  • ASSET MANAGEMENT
    There are a number of regulatory constraints and perceived conflicts that weigh on the synergies between an Equities trading business and a related Asset Management subsidiary; however, a percentage of agency order flow from the Asset Management arm may be directed to the Equities business, and access to stock loan supply can support its prime brokerage and derivatives trading efforts. Partnership in the creation of equity-linked ETFs and structured notes can generate product supply for retail and wholesale investors. Apart from trading, Asset Management provides a means to monetize Research, in some cases alongside of investor clients.

Figure 1 illustrates some of the contributions of these five business units to the traditional business of Equities and its clients:

Figure 1

Figure 1: How Firm Context for Equities Enhances Investor Value

Clients care about what a bank or broker-dealer can do for them overall, without concerning themselves with a firm’s internal product boundaries or management organization. When broader capabilities are called for, collaboration with other internal business units becomes critical to the success of the Equities franchise.

What do investor clients really want?

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[Part 2 of Equities Context and Content]

The needs of investor clients are complex and involve much more than the execution of orders. By convention, clients rely on their execution commissions (and, in some cases, financing balances) to obtain additional resources from their brokers. As clients ascribe less value to pure execution, they are directing the bulk of their commissions toward more valuable services and scarce resources.

Table 1 shows the capabilities of a bank or broker-dealer, some or all of which may be meaningful to an institutional investor:

Table 1

Table 1: Components of an Investor Client Value Proposition

The table also illustrates two challenging aspects of Equities businesses: First, that there is no direct revenue associated with many of these resources and services. Second, that these resources and services can lie beyond the traditional purview of Equities management. A successful Equities business must deploy the full capabilities of its firm and direct them at investor clients to access all potential sources of revenue, direct and indirect.

Equities Content and Context

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We are launching a series and associated white paper entitled “Equities Content and Context: Comparative Business Models Among Banks and Broker-Dealers.”

“Don’t get involved in partial problems, but always take flight to where there is a free view over the whole single great problem, even if this view is still not a clear one.”  —  Ludwig Wittgenstein
“What you see is what you get.” — Flip Wilson

Article at a Glance

Declining revenues and pending regulation are forcing firms to review their Equities businesses. Competing Equities businesses differ greatly from firm to firm in the breadth of capabilities. As a result, some firms may be unable to access revenue pools that make competitors appear more successful in comparison. A closer look at how a firm’s strengths appeal to specific client segments can reveal why an Equities business is underperforming relative to the market or its peers. An understanding of “boutique” models can provide insight for large banks and smaller broker-dealers alike, whether they are contemplating further investment or a pull-back.

The value of an Equities business to investors is largely dependent on the capabilities of the firm in which it operates. Despite an advantage in breadth of capabilities, large firms that fail to deliver a wide range of products may end up with boutique-like results. Small firms forced to compete on a limited product set can still distinguish themselves in specific market segments.

This article explores the following questions as they relate to managing an Equities business:

  • What do investor clients really want?
    What are the products, resources, and services that are most valuable to their business?
  • Why does the firm context matter?
    How can other business lines contribute to the success of an Equities franchise?
  • What constitutes a “full-service” Equities business?
    What do the largest, mature Equities businesses offer to clients? What additional revenues do they capture?
  • How is client value converted into revenue?
    How are products positioned as client solutions?
  • How do Equities businesses align with investors?
    Which clients is the firm most likely to attract?
  • What are the partial or “boutique” Equities business models?
    How do firms successfully differentiate? How can a regional or sector-based strategy succeed?
The article and its diagrams will be provided here in subsequent posts. If you can’t wait for the serialization, download the full article here.

Out of the Shadows: Central Clearing of Repo

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High Line Advisors has published a white paper entitled Out of the Shadows: Central Clearing of Repo – A Transparent Market Structure for Cash Borrowers and Lenders.

“Although personally I am quite content with existing explosives, I feel we must not stand in the path of improvement.” — Winston Churchill

Article at a Glance

Repurchase agreements (repo) are the largest part of the “shadow” banking system: a network of demand deposits that, despite its size, maturity, and general stability, remains vulnerable to investor panic. Just as depositors can make a “run” on a bank, repo lenders can take their money out of the market, thereby denying the lifeblood of cash to broker-dealers (stand-alone or those owned by banks or bank holding companies), which rely on leverage to operate.

The entire shadow banking system has been demonized as a place where loans are hidden within derivatives among nonbank counterparties rather than displayed on the balance sheets of traditional, regulated banks. In reality, the shadow banking system is a legitimate market for secured financing, in which cash is lent in exchange for collateral. Repo in particular has many positive attributes, including disclosure on the balance sheet; nevertheless, the financial crisis exposed several flaws in the secured financing markets in general and repo in specific, and the Federal Reserve System ultimately interceded with liquidity to prevent the further collapse of banks and broker-dealers.

While not categorized as a “derivative,” repo is an over-the-counter (OTC) contract that shares many key characteristics with derivatives, including a reliance on its counterparts to meet obligations over time. The inability of regulators to measure activity in OTC derivatives resulted in the passage of the Dodd-Frank legislation, which requires that certain instruments be moved to a central counterparty clearing house (CCP). As the nexus of all trades, a CCP provides visibility to regulators and credit intermediation for all market participants.

The benefits of central clearing are directly applicable to the repo market and are crucial to the global money markets that are relied on as a safe, short-term investment for individuals and institutions alike. Central clearing is needed to provide lenders with guaranteed return of cash without sensitivity to collateral or credit. A CCP also lays the groundwork for lenders to interact directly with borrowers in a true exchange with transparent pricing.

Central clearing of repo can also provide capital efficiency and more stable funding for banks and broker-dealers. Ultimately, a CCP for repo can evolve into a hub of funding activity for many forms of liquid collateral, thereby bringing the majority of the shadow banking system into full view.

Download a PDF of the article here.

“Team Selling” Over “Cross-Selling”

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[part of a series on hedge fund sales coverage]

Cross-selling” initiatives have always struck us as weak efforts to encourage client-centric behavior in essentially product-centric organizations. Incentives often work against the intent, as sales professionals understand their compensation to be driven by revenues in one product line, and annual bonus discussions fail to reinforce broader behavior.

Most broker-dealers are organized by product. The best aspects of product-centric management are risk discipline, operating efficiency, domain expertise, best-of-breed products, and an excellent client experience. Product-centric management works well when there is a 1:1 relationship between clients and products, as was the case historically. Modern asset managers, hedge funds in particular, are not so well-behaved, and may deploy many products or asset classes within a single portfolio. Without a means of communicating horizontally, product-centric organizations can miss overall client activity and related revenue.

What is needed is an approach to balance product discipline with client coverage across multiple products. This requires a “1:many” solution for covering clients and measuring revenue across products. We call the process of coordinating sales coverage of one client across multiple products “Team Selling.” The team is collectively responsible for covering a client, and collectively responsible for maximizing share of the client’s “wallet,” rather than market share for any particular product.

Harvard Business Review recently conducted an interview with Admiral Thad Allen, USCG (Ret.) (ref. “You Have to Lead from Everywhere” by Scott Berinato). Admiral Allen’s comments on crisis management can be applied to the coordination of multiple product specialists in covering complex clients:

“You have to aggregate everybody’s capabilities to achieve a single purpose, taking into account the fact that they have distinct authorities and responsibilities. That’s creating unity of effort rather than unity of command, and it’s a much more complex management challenge.”

In the context of institutional sales, “unity of effort” implies coordination among separate individuals from different product areas covering the same client (or multiple buying centers at the same client institution), and the “single purpose” they are aiming to achieve is to maximize the profitability of that client.

Using a hedge fund investing in long/short equity as an example, three buying centers can be defined by the investment decision (what to buy), the execution decision (how to buy or express the investment), and the financing decision (how to pay for it). In general, these decisions are made for the fund by different individuals or groups, with the portfolio manager, chief investment officer, or analyst consuming resources to determine what investments to make; the head trader or derivatives specialist deciding how orders are executed, and the chief operating officer or chief finance officer deciding how and where to source financing or borrow stock.

investor client wallet

Traditionally, institutional equity sales teams have been comprised of Research Sales professionals covering buy-side analysts and portfolio managers, Sales-Traders and Derivatives Sales people covering buy-side trading desks, and Prime Brokerage or Stock Loan professionals covering the fund’s COO and CFO.

These client-facing professionals tend to be grouped by product, with Research Sales and Sales-Traders associated with cash, Derivatives Sales with derivatives, and Prime Brokerage and Stock Loan sales people associate with those financing products respectively. In a product-centric organization, these sales groups tend to focus on maximizing the revenue in their respective products, without regard for or regular communication with sales people in the other product silos, even if they cover the same institution.

Without breaking the product-centric organization, management can encourage coordination or “unity of effort” across product areas in covering the same client, simply by empowering teams with information on client revenue across all products, (in addition to the traditional reporting of product revenue across all clients). With the common goal of maximizing wallet share and profitability, a client team can work together to make introductions, deliver resources, solve client problems, and fill revenue gaps across the product spectrum.

While easily piloted, the first challenge in team selling is scalability. Scale is achieved when the same team of sales people from different product areas cover the same set of clients. When this occurs, the number of virtual teams can be fewer and their team meetings can be less frequent and more efficient. Rebalancing coverage assignments is difficult but can be rewarding over time: the organization can over a large number of clients as teams operate independently and simultaneously. Team selling is also a compliment to any key account management program, with team leaders corresponding to relationship or account managers. The larger the account, the more senior the team leader. Armed with the right information, anyone in the organization can contribute to or even lead a client team.

Culturally, teams must believe that they will be rewarded for overall increase in profitability of the clients they cover, not only the revenues in the product they are associated with. Client revenue production, product penetration, and profitability can be added to traditional sales metrics in the determination of compensation.

While cross-selling is a product-centric behavior that is by its nature a secondary priority for sales people, team selling encourages client-centric behavior and awareness of the maximum revenue opportunity from each client that the organization covers.

Learning From The Past

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“A good scare is worth more to a man than good advice.” Edgar Watson Howe
“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

At the end of another full year following the peak of the financial crisis in October of 2008, it may be time to review what should have been learned and to ask whether measures have been taken to improve broker-dealer risk management and operations.Five specific events culminating in the financial crisis contained valuable lessons for stand-alone broker-dealers as well as those at banks and bank holding companies:

  • The self-liquidation of Amaranth Advisors at the end of 2006 was the canary in the coal mine, exposing the difficulty of managing complex customer activity in multiple markets and asset classes, expressed through listed products and OTC contracts in multiple legal entities. Firms had an inadequate picture of aggregate client activity and were uncertain of their contractual rights across the different products. This confusion slowed the movement of cash, creating cracks in the client-broker relationship. Losses at banks were averted solely because of the high degree of liquidity in Amaranth’s portfolio. The crucial question that would haunt banks in the coming months was: what if Amaranth’s remaining positions could not have been sold to raise cash?
  • Several hedge funds, most notably those of Bear Stearns Asset Management, began to default on payments in 2007. Unable to raise cash from increasingly illiquid investments, both investors and banks lost money. The defaults drew attention to financing transactions in which the banks did not have sufficient collateral to cover loans they had extended. It is noteworthy that these trades were not governed by margin policy in prime brokerage, but were executed as repurchase agreements in fixed income, in some cases with no haircut or initial margin. Collateralized lending was practiced inconsistently by different divisions of the same firm, some ignoring collateral altogether and venturing into credit extension.
  • The collapse and sale of the remainder of Bear Stearns in early 2008 highlighted a different liquidity problem: a case in which customer cash held in prime brokerage accounts (“free credits”) significantly exceeded the firm’s own cash position. Because of this imbalance, Bear Stearns was essentially undermined by its own clients as hedge funds withdrew their cash. Once the customer cash was gone, the firm could not replace it fast enough from secured or unsecured sources of its own. Bear Stearns’ predicament forced the prime brokerage industry to confront some hard truths: Because firms had developed a dependency on customer cash and securities in the management of their own balance sheets, sources of cash and their stability were not fully understood even by corporate treasuries.
  • The bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in September of 2008 exposed the widespread practice of financing an illiquid balance sheet in a decentralized manner with short-term liabilities. Under the assumption that the world was awash in liquidity and ready cash, many firms had neither the systems to manage daily cash balances nor contingencies in the event that short-term funding sources became scarce. The problems of Lehman and its investors were compounded by intra-company transfers and cash trapped in various legal entities.
  • The Madoff scandal that broke the following December was in some ways the last straw for asset owners. Already concerned about the health of the banking system and the idiosyncratic risk of fund selection, they lost confidence in the industry’s infrastructure and controls. Banks now contend with demand for greater asset protection and transparency of information.

In summary, the actions suggested by these five events are as follows:

  1. Aggregate the activities of any one client across all products and legal entities of the bank or broker-dealer
  2. Establish consistent secured lending guidelines across similar products to ensure liquidity
  3. Develop transparency of all sources and uses of cash to minimize reliance on unsecured funding [see Collateral Management: Best Practices for Broker-Dealers]
  4. Match assets and liabilities to term
  5. Prepare for segregation of customer collateral with operations, reporting, and alternative funding sources
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