Even after the sale of First Republic, investors are worried about challenges that regional banks still face, imperiling the economy.
There’s a new owner at First Republic — but many of the same worries hang over the sector.Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times
Wall Street is still on edge
After JPMorgan Chase secured a deal to buy the embattled First Republic, the banking giant’s chief, Jamie Dimon, asserted that the market turmoil set off by Silicon Valley Bank’s collapse was at an end. “This part of the crisis is over,” he told analysts on Monday.
But Wall Street isn’t convinced yet, as investors worry that potential new regulations and constrained lending could endanger the fragile economy. That skepticism was readily apparent at the Milken Institute Global Conference, a gathering of high-powered financiers in Los Angeles: “There’s a tendency to breathe a sigh of relief on mornings like this,” David Hunt of PGIM, a global asset manager, said in his opening remarks. “Actually, we are just getting started.”
How fragile are regional banks? Analysts say First Republic’s problems were unique and not shared more widely across the sector. That view was also reflected in how little the S&P 500 financials sector moved on Monday after the bank’s sale was announced.
But smaller lenders do face significant concerns. They account for about 80 percent of commercial real estate mortgages and 45 percent of consumer lending, according to Goldman Sachs. That leaves them exposed to further drops in office property values and consumer spending — which could lead to a wider credit crunch.
Watch out for short sellers. Hedge funds that bet stocks will fall scored a mammoth return on First Republic’s demise. (By last Friday, over a third of the bank’s shares were held by short sellers.)
Those investors have also taken aim at other regional lenders, including Bank OZK, Western Alliance and Zions Bancorp, and have booked $5.3 billion in mark-to-market profits on such stocks in the year through last Friday, according to data from S3 Partners.
The outlook for revamped bank regulation remains hazy. The F.D.I.C. on Monday called on Congress to consider insuring a wider array of deposits, to help forestall future bank runs. And Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, said First Republic’s troubles underscored a need for tighter oversight.
But the way First Republic’s sale played out — a “protracted game of chicken” between regulators and potential buyers — suggests that future bank rescues won’t be resolved quickly, potentially prolonging market uncertainty. And the Biden administration was forced to defend allowing JPMorgan, the nation’s biggest bank, to get even bigger.
Banks’ health will surely be on Fed governors’ minds on Wednesday, when they gather to begin discussing their next move on interest rate policy. The futures market this morning sees the central bank raising rates by a quarter point, but it’s unclear how much a slowing economy and bank fragility will influence their decision.
Some think the situation with banks may be a significant factor. “A greater degree of uncertainty around the impact of financial stress in the banking sector” should be a main focus of the Fed, Aichi Amemiya, U.S. economist at Nomura, wrote to investors, predicting that a rate increase on Wednesday would be the last in this tightening cycle.
More on First Republic: Monday’s deal will give JPMorgan a new crop of affluent clients to expand its flourishing wealth-management business. And two of the heirs apparent to Mr. Dimon, the JPMorgan consumer banking chiefs Marianne Lake and Jennifer Piepszak, will jointly oversee the First Republic acquisition.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
Janet Yellen warns that the U.S. could run out of cash by June 1. The Treasury secretary said the federal government would be unable to pay its bills sooner than expected, putting extra pressure on the White House and Congress to reach a fiscal agreement. President Biden called on top lawmakers to meet next week in search of a solution.
The White House weighs two nominations for the Fed. The Biden administration is considering naming Adriana Kugler, the U.S. executive director of the World Bank, as the first Latina member of the central bank’s board of governors; it may also seek to make Philip Jefferson the Fed’s second Black vice chairman. Both would effectively fill roles formerly held by Lael Brainard, who became Biden’s top economic adviser in February.
Vice is preparing for bankruptcy. DealBook’s Lauren Hirsch and The Times’s Ben Mullin broke the news that the struggling digital media outlet could file for Chapter 11 in the coming weeks. While five companies have expressed interest in buying Vice, a sale is regarded as increasingly unlikely.
EY concedes its breakup plan is dead. Leaders of the firm, commonly known as Ernst & Young, told employees recently that they’re no longer working on a proposal to split its auditing and consulting arms, despite publicly committing to an eventual divide, according to The Wall Street Journal. Though EY’s 13,000 partners largely backed the idea, the firm’s U.S. arm bitterly opposed the move.
Corporate America weighs further shrinking its work force. Morgan Stanley is planning to cut 3,000 jobs this quarter, largely from its banking and trading arms, according to Bloomberg. Meanwhile, IBM will pause hiring in back-office roles — departments like human resources — that it thinks could be replaced with A.I. in the coming years.
A streaming-driven strike
Keyboards across Hollywood will go silent on Tuesday, after the unions representing movie and TV writers called a strike for the first time in 15 years. The immediate fallout: Late-night and variety shows will go dark immediately.
Behind the walkout are growing concerns about the new economics and practices of the streaming era — and the financial health of a wide array of stakeholders will depend on whether a compromise can be reached.
What the writers want: The Writers Guild of America has demanded baselines for the number of writers and weeks of employment on a production, as well as the end of minirooms, or lower-paid teams who write scripts for TV shows before they’ve been officially commissioned. The union is also demanding guardrails on studios adopting A.I.-powered tools that could write new scripts.
Moreover, writers want a revamp of the residual payments system. Before, writers would get residuals whenever their shows went to syndication or DVD, something that doesn’t happen with streaming services like Netflix. The guild has also asked for residuals that factor in shows’ success — which would require streaming services to disclose viewership data that they have zealously guarded.
Studios are pushing back hard. While they’re willing to increase minimum pay and some residuals, they aren’t willing to budge on baseline staffing. The biggest reason: They’re already under pressure to cut content costs, as investors sour on the profligate spending that companies once used to bulk up their streaming businesses.
Companies will likely be hit differently by a strike:
Netflix, which already has a significant backlog of shows and can draw on a huge amount of unscripted and foreign series, is in a strong position.
Warner Bros. Discovery, which produces a lot of reality TV, could also bump along OK, though HBO would eventually be hurt by a dearth of new prestige shows. Disney will rely on sports programming and its vast library.
Traditional broadcasters like Paramount Global and Comcast’s NBCUniversal could be hurt quickly by a lack of new shows.
No one wants a prolonged work stoppage, like the 100-day strike in 2007. Both writers and studios were hurt by the pandemic, which halted productions for months. And both sides note that local communities that depend economically on movie and TV shoots could be badly hurt by a long walkout.
One thing to watch out for is what other major unions do. Hollywood’s contracts with the directors’ and actors’ guilds expire in June, putting extra pressure on studios that could be hit by a broader work stoppage.
“It is hard to see how you can prevent the bad actors from using it for bad things.”
— Geoffrey Hinton, a researcher known as the “godfather of A.I.” Hinton quit his job at Google to speak publicly about the risks of the technology he spent his life pioneering and the emerging tech arms race to advance it.
Republicans intensify pushback on tracking gun purchases
For a while, it looked like the financial industry was on its way to applying some of the mechanisms it uses to spot fraud to try to limit mass shootings. But a Republican pushback that began at the state level could now go national, making any such shift far more difficult.
A special code approved last year raised the hopes of gun control advocates. The International Organization for Standardization, which sets standards for payment transactions, voted to create a special category code for gun stores to use when processing credit and debit card transactions. Such codes are used for just about every retailing category and could allow credit card companies to spot suspicious gun-buying patterns.
Visa, Mastercard and American Express have delayed implementing the code. They cited bills in Florida, Texas, West Virginia and several other states that aimed to ban the new approach. Last week, Republican lawmakers introduced a federal ban to take those bans nationwide.
Opponents say it is an issue of gun rights and privacy. Rep. Alexander Mooney of West Virginia, a co-sponsor of the bill, told DealBook that “leftist activists have been clear that they intend to use merchant category codes to further surveil the constitutional firearm purchases of law-abiding citizens.”
Politics aren’t the only hurdle. As DealBook wrote last year, credit card companies would need to enforce merchants’ use of the code and create algorithms to pinpoint suspicious activity. But gun control advocates say the industry has plenty of experience handling similar tasks, from spotting fraudulent purchases and stolen credit cards to money laundering.
THE SPEED READ
Lordstown Motors, the electric vehicle maker, warned that a Foxconn funding deal was in jeopardy and that it could file for bankruptcy. (CNBC)
The venture capital firm founded by Ashton Kutcher and Guy Oseary raised $240 million to invest in A.I. businesses. (Variety)
Jeb Bush’s private equity firm reportedly held talks with NSO Group, the Israeli tech firm that makes the spyware Pegasus, about selling its products in the U.S. (FT)
Meta, Facebook’s parent company, reportedly sold $8.5 billion worth of bonds, becoming the first tech giant to tap the investment-grade fixed income market since the fall of Silicon Valley Bank. (Bloomberg)
The Florida board that oversees Disney’s theme parks in the state sued the media giant to try to regain control over its expansion plans. (NYT)
Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, helped author the Inflation Reduction Act. Now he wants to repeal parts of the law to reduce the national debt. (Bloomberg)
The American Edge Project, a tech advocacy group that fought antitrust legislation, reportedly received $34 million in backing from Facebook. (CNBC)
Best of the rest
A series of raids on foreign-owned consultants in China reveal the growing challenges, and potential dangers, of doing due diligence in the country. (FT)
“How Do We Ensure an A.I. Future That Allows for Human Thriving?” (NYT)
“Bird Flu Detectives Seek Clues to Next Global Pandemic” (Bloomberg)
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