Friday, February 1, 2013

More Focus On Bank Managements

After tracking the broader market averages through the first 9 months of 2012, financial stocks took off in the fourth quarter, and ended the year as the best performing sector in the S&P 500 in 2012.

This strong performance was in marked contrast to 2011, when financials were the weakest group.

There were several reasons for the change in sentiment last year, but mostly investors sensed that perhaps banks were slowly regaining their mojo after the credit crisis of 2008-09.

But is actually the case?

Meredith Whitney has a good piece in this morning's Financial Times arguing that it is not clear that bank managements have fully corrected the myopic behavior that got them in such difficulty five years ago. 

Ms. Whitney made her chops in 2007 when she was one of the first on Wall Street to foresee the coming banking crisis, so it would seem logical to take note of her views today.

Here's an excerpt from her editorial:

Since the financial crisis, many American businesses have increased their productivity - and they should be applauded for doing so.  They got lean and mean.  They reduced headcount, they eliminated waste and they shortened the supply chain.  What have banks done against this backdrop?  Very little.  Headcount within the financial industry is actually 150,000 higher than it was in 2007, when revenues were at their peak, according to SNL Financial.