Investment Banking - Size of Industry

Size of Industry

Global investment banking revenue increased for the fifth year running in 2007, to a record US$84.3 billion, which was up 22% on the previous year and more than double the level in 2003. Subsequent to their exposure to United States sub-prime securities investments, many investment banks have experienced losses since this time.

The United States was the primary source of investment banking income in 2007, with 53% of the total, a proportion which has fallen somewhat during the past decade. Europe (with Middle East and Africa) generated 32% of the total, slightly up on its 30% share a decade ago. Asian countries generated the remaining 15%. Over the past decade, fee income from the US increased by 80%. This compares with a 217% increase in Europe and 250% increase in Asia during this period. The industry is heavily concentrated in a small number of major financial centers, including City of London, New York City, Hong Kong and Tokyo.

Investment banking is one of the most global industries and is hence continuously challenged to respond to new developments and innovation in the global financial markets. New products with higher margins are constantly invented and manufactured by bankers in the hope of winning over clients and developing trading know-how in new markets. However, since these can usually not be patented or copyrighted, they are very often copied quickly by competing banks, pushing down trading margins.

For example, trading bonds and equities for customers is now a commodity business, but structuring and trading derivatives retains higher margins in good times—and the risk of large losses in difficult market conditions, such as the credit crunch that began in 2007. Each over-the-counter contract has to be uniquely structured and could involve complex pay-off and risk profiles. Listed option contracts are traded through major exchanges, such as the CBOE, and are almost as commoditized as general equity securities.

In addition, while many products have been commoditized, an increasing amount of profit within investment banks has come from proprietary trading, where size creates a positive network benefit (since the more trades an investment bank does, the more it knows about the market flow, allowing it to theoretically make better trades and pass on better guidance to clients).

The fastest growing segment of the investment banking industry are private investments into public companies (PIPEs, otherwise known as Regulation D or Regulation S). Such transactions are privately negotiated between companies and accredited investors. These PIPE transactions are non-rule 144A transactions. Large bulge bracket brokerage firms and smaller boutique firms compete in this sector. Special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) or blank check corporations have been created from this industry.

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