The investment banking world is intricately involved in influencing the direction of interest rates. Of the many factors that “surprised” many in the investment banking business in 2014 was the continued downward pressure on interest rates.

Essentially, at the start of 2014 the presumption among most in the investment banking universe was that global growth would accelerate, with inflation going along for the ride. That didn’t happen. Instead, global growth weakened and the yield on interest bearing securities weakened as well. This is the conventional wisdom explanation.

Is the “Global Growth Was Weak” explanation right? The “global growth” explanation for declining yields in 2014 is not the only possible explanation. There’s a demographic explanation as well.

Demographics

The demographic explanation is simply this.  The aging of the workforce is putting downward pressure on interest rates through a demand-side mechanism.  Essentially, with a larger portion of the workforce being made up of older Americans, there’s a greater demand for Treasuries and other interest bearing assets.

Here’s the evidence.

The left side of the graph is the younger population’s (16-34) share of the workforce.  The percentage of the workforce between 16 and 34 has been declining significantly since 1981, peaking in 1981 at an amazing 53 percent.

The figure “recently” bottomed in early 2011 at around 41 percent.

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The Yield

What have interest rates done over the same period? The yield on the 10-year note peaked in September 1981 at around 15 percent. Since that 1981 peak, the 10-year yield has precipitously declined, reaching a bottom of about 1.5 percent in July 2012.

What’s Happened Since 2012?

The figure shows that perhaps there is a long-run correlation between the two, but does it explain the 2014 interest rate surprise? Well, here’s a zoom look at the relationship since 2012. Interestingly, the relationship may also have a short-term connection as well (although, there’s certainly a lag).

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The figure shows that the share of the working age population 16 to 34 bottomed in mid-2011. The yield bottomed a year later in mid-2012. Fast forward to 2014. The share of the working age population 16 to 34 experienced a slight peak at a little more than 41.3 percent in mid-2014 and has since slightly declined. Likewise, in early 2014 the yield on the 10-year note peaked in early 2014 and has precipitously declined.

Perhaps causal, perhaps not.

Conclusion

Overall, the investment banking world may want to pay more attention to demographics when explaining interest rate movements, and less towards the conventional wisdom of “stronger or weaker than expected economic growth.”

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It has been an interesting year for economic growth. Overall, the world economy grew by about 3.5 percent on a real, price differential adjusted, basis.  The growth of 3.5 percent was relatively decent, although, of course, it was not even.

Perhaps surprisingly, the 2014 GDP growth figures show a widely uneven experience in the amount of contribution to global growth in the year we just finished.

China

The king of economic growth in 2014 was businesses and consumers in China.  Economic growth in China accounted for more than one-third of all growth worldwide, at about 34 percent.

Interestingly, the 34 percent take occurred even though the Chinese economy slowed by a couple of percentage points from 2013 to 2014.  Economists put the China GDP growth rate for 2014 somewhere in the low 7 percent range, which is still enormous by western standards, but nowhere near the 9 or 10 percent growth experienced a few years back.

Europe

Next, take a look at European economic growth. Perhaps surprisingly, growth in the old world was worse than lackluster, accounting for a measly 5.5 percent of global output growth in 2014. The disappointment in Europe, of course, stems largely from incredibly weak smaller economies as well as some of the globe’s largest.

The weakest links of the European economies include Italy (in a recession), France (barely positive growth), and many of the so-called peripheries. Some of the stronger members include the workhorse of the European Union – Germany — as well the Netherlands and parts of Poland.

Overall, European economies are estimated to have experienced 0.8 percent growth in 2014.

United States

Business conditions were on the upside in the United States, with growth likely somewhere around 2.5 percent to 3.0 percent for 2014 as a whole. Although the entire European Union is about the size of the American economy, economic growth in the United States accounts for around one-fourth of all output growth in 2014, an amazing number for an economy with a still quite weak housing and labor market. (This probably speaks more the weak prospects of much of the world than to the strength of the U.S. economy.)

Russia

In prior years, growth in Russia has accounted for a strong portion of global economic growth. That was not the case in 2014, with Russian businesses and consumers estimated to have accounted for less than 1 percent of global growth.

The outlook for 2015 is not bright for the Russian economy either, anticipated to decline by around 2 percent.

A Broad Look at 2014

Overall, amazingly, about three-fourths of all economic growth in the world is estimated to have occurred in just five countries, with almost 60 percent estimated to have occurred in China and the United States alone.

gdp.fwLooking Forward to 2015

The 2014 background leads us to ponder the question: how will 2015 turn out?

For the global economy to achieve the same growth rate in 2015 as it did in 2014, we’ll likely have to see a little bit better than 0.8 percent growth out of EU members, as well as growth out of Japan, Brazil, and some of the other bigger players in the globe who are currently in a contraction. Should these conditions materialize, the global economy should be able to shrug off a cooling China economy and a potential recession out of Russia.

What would happen if China re-heated and Russia grew at 4 percent (and the previous conditions held)? We would probably see growth of at least 8 percent, and more than likely 9 or 10 percent.

Perhaps it’s time to get rid of the sanctions on Russia?  (At least if we want greater global growth)

Conclusion

Overall, the investment world saw a somewhat surprising end to 2014, at least when it comes to economic growth as measured by GDP.  The 2015 outlook is, of course, less certain, although indications are that growth might slow somewhat this year.

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The 2014 year is almost over.  Being good analysts, it seems like a good idea to review how investment banking employment did through the year and what the industry can expect for 2015.

A Look Back at 2014 – Actual Employment

The first graphic is a look at total investment banking industry employment since 1990.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, 2014 is set to be the best year for the investment banking industry since 2010. Overall, investment banking firms are estimated to have employed around 1,200 more individuals in 2014 than they did in 2013, representing a growth rate of around 1%.

As a “sad” note, and in contrast to most other finance sectors, the investment banking industry is still well below its previous peak employment of around 101,000 in July 2007 (employment in the industry generally jumps in summer months as college interns come to spend some time with the world’s financial leaders). With the note that the industry is still well below its all-time peak, the industry has been on an upward trajectory over the past two-and-one-half year.

Employment in the investment banking industry bottomed in May 2012 at about 90,000. Since that time, investment banking firms have “only” added around 7,000 jobs. What factors are behind the relative weakness of investment banking employment growth?

The slow down can be blamed on two regulatory forces. The first factor is the preparation and implementation of Dodd-Frank.  The second is preparation for Basel III (although implementation is still four or five years off, at the earliest).

With the regulatory forces acting as a downward force on investment banking industry employment, it might seem somewhat surprising that the industry is still adding jobs, but the industry is adding jobs, just at a slower pace than what historically would be the case.

Investment Banking Employment (through2014) Sources: Econometric Studios, Moody’s, BLS

 

Looking Back at Year-Over-Year Growth

In terms of the year-over-year growth rate, 2014 looks relatively mediocre.  The year (2014) started off with a year-over-year growth rate of almost 2%. That 2% growth rate decelerated to about 1% by year’s end.  By contrast, the economy as a whole is operating at a little less than a 2% annual rate. The picture for the investment banking industry could aptly be described as cautiously optimistic, with a heavy emphasis on caution.

Prior to the financial crisis, investment banking firms were adding jobs at a peak 17% annual rate (December 2006). Those days are clearly long gone, with no signs of them coming back any time soon. In all, year-over-year investment banking employment growth is subdued, although history and indications suggest that moderate growth is still on the horizon.

YY Investment Banking Employment (through2014) Sources: Econometric Studios, Moody’s, BLS

 

Looking Forward to 2015

With the actual experience and year-over-year growth rates established, what can we expect in the coming year?

The first graph presented contains statistical ranges for the outlook year (2015). Overall, statistics put the 2015 projection at around 2,000, which would be a slight acceleration from the current 1% year-over-year growth rate.

The range on the 2015 forecast is surprisingly large.  This is due to the general under-performance of the investment banking industry.

An informed forecast, which includes the statistical forecast, probably puts the investment banking employment growth rate closer to 3% as the economy begins to add steam.  A 3% growth rate puts the net new jobs at around 3,000.

Conclusion

Overall, 2014 was a moderately positive year for the investment banking industry.  Presuming the economy gains some momentum in the year ahead, the investment banking industry may add 2,000 to 3,000 new jobs in 2015, representing a moderately positive baseline forecast.

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Six Big Central Banks May Cause Investment Bankers Heartburn in 2015

December 9, 2014

The global economy started 2014 off with moderate strength.  Since then, its status has been downgraded to moderately weak. Entering 2015 with this background, there’s one question investment bankers certainly have on their mind. Which of the big 6 central banks will cause investment bankers the most heartburn in 2015? Let’s take a look. European Central Bank […]

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Government Spending – Do Investment Bankers Fall on the Side of the Germans or the French?

November 24, 2014

Among the more hotly debated issues in the investment banking world is the issue of government spending, and in particular government spending in Europe. The fundamental question is: Should European nations continue to reduce the costs of government services (i.e. reduce government spending to the point of a balanced budget)? Germany answers this question with an honest […]

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Could President Obama Be the First President to Never See a Fed Rate Hike?

November 10, 2014

For the third time in the past 5 years, the Federal Reserve officially ended an experiment with quantitative easing (QE), known this time around as QE3 (uncreatively, the prior two became known as QE1 and QE2). The end of quantitative easing presents the next obvious question: When will the Federal Reserve hike rates (ignoring for the […]

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Which Will Come First: The Fed Hikes Rates or QE4?

October 27, 2014

The investment banking world seems to be quite concerned about the so-called “end of QE3.” End of QE3 a Top Concern and Well-Grounded in Experience Indeed, in discussions about global economic conditions, current top concerns seem to put the end of QE3 just as high in importance as slower, but still robust, growth out of […]

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