Economic expansion in 2019 provided solid growth for investment banks, but the COVID-19 epidemic suggests contraction ahead.

Author: Joel Kranc

The world economic situation in the early part of this year remains volatile, given the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, an election looming in the United States and world central banks lowering interest rates. However, last year saw some progress for the banking community. The economic boom in the US continued; Brexit became more certain, and some trade wars settled down, with deals or tentative deals in place.

US banks are ahead on multiple measures compared to their European counterparts. Aggressive policy interventions and forceful regulations helped propel US banks to health after the financial crisis. In the past year, favorable GDP growth, tax cuts and rising rates further bolstered the state of the industry.

New competition is emerging for large banks, as fintechs and so-called Big Tech companies attract investment and clients, according to EY’s Banking in the New Decade report. These companies benefit from not having legacy systems to update, allowing them more freedom to invest in the latest technology. The report says these competitors are driving banks to spend significantly on digital transformation.

Europe’s banks, notes the report, are bolstered by higher capital ratios and a significant decline in nonperforming loans. On the other hand, trade tensions are crimping growth and the EU economy remains weak. Germany and the UK barely escaped recession. “Monetary easing in the eurozone will continue to lower margins and hinder revenues,” EY notes, “while the potential for negative rates means deposit margins—a significant driver of industry revenues before the global financial crisis—are now a drag on the bottom lines of the banks.”

Tan, DBS: We seek to guide our clients’ strategic direction, alert them to opportunities for debt and equity fund-raising and connect
them across borders.

2019 saw a decline in revenue for much of the developed economies, while some developing regions saw an uptick. Globally, revenue was down for the industry by 3.6% year-over-year to $76.8 billion in 2019, from $79.7 billion the year prior (which itself was a decline from 2017), according to Dealogic.

In North America, investment-banking revenue declined 4% in 2018-2019 to $42.7 billion; and in Europe, revenue was down a staggering 15% to $16.4 billion. Japan and Australasia also saw revenue declines of 13%, or $2.9 billion; and 11%, or $1.7 billion, respectively. The regions that saw growth this past year were Latin America, with a 16% year-over-year revenue increase of $1.6 billion; the Middle East, with a 27% revenue growth of $1.4 billion; North Asia, with a 2% growth of $8.4 billion; and Southeast Asia, with a 3% revenue growth of $1.1 billion.

The winners of Global Finance’s Best Investment Banks 2020 awards are those institutions that stand out for their ability to maintain and even strengthen their market positions in volatile environments.

This year’s winner for top investment bank globally, as well as for North America, is J.P. Morgan. The bank has held these spots several years in a row, not just for its size but also for its innovation and its reach across markets. According to Dealogic, revenue-banking share for J.P. Morgan in the Americas grew 11.5% to $4.5 billion from 8.7% the previous year. In J.P. Morgan’s annual conference call to investors, the company stated that net income remained relatively flat, from $12 billion in 2018 to $12.3 billion in 2019; however, revenue grew from $36.4 billion in 2018 to $38.3 billion in 2019 (and grew 15% over the past five years).

According to Daniel Pinto, Co-COO and CEO of J.P. Morgan’s Corporate and Investment Bank, “Capital has gone up in the last five years, from $62 billion to $80 billion. Ninety percent of the increase is related to methodology changes and higher capitalization, with only 10% of it related to new business initiatives.” He adds that “an increase in expenses is fully explained by expenses related to the increase in revenue. We invested in that period of time, in technology and talent.” In the past year, J.P. Morgan reported an expense increase from $20.7 billion to $21.1 billion.

Global investment banking for J.P. Morgan has grown market share for four consecutive years, according to Dealogic; although the industry wallet has remained flat at $77 billion. Dealogic data show J.P. Morgan has seen M&A growth of 9.2% since last year, to $26 billion, and is ranked number one in debt-capital management and equity-capital management, earning $37 billion and $15 billion, respectively, in those sectors. The bank has participated in all top five fee-paying deals in 2019 and seven of the top 10 fee deals. Notably, this past year, J.P. Morgan participated as lead adviser to Celgene in its sale to Bristol-Myers Squibb and acted as adviser to the world’s largest oil producer, Saudi Aramco’s, for its purchase of the chemical firm Saudi Basic Industries for $69 billion.

Revenue share for the Europe, Middle East and Africa region stood at 10.5%, also giving the bank the top spot among peers. In the Asia-Pacific region, J.P. Morgan had a 6.6% revenue share, putting it at the number three spot according to Dealogic, but just 0.1% below first place.

In Western Europe, the continent’s largest bank, HSBC, has been setting its sights on the years ahead. Changes were afoot as CEO John Flint stepped down after serving for about a year and a half in the role and Noel Quinn, the CEO of global commercial banking, stepped in as interim CEO.

The company stated in its annual report that adjusted revenue was “up 5.9% to $55.4 billion and adjusted profit before tax up 5% to $22.2 billion, reflecting good revenue growth in retail banking and wealth management, global private banking … together with improved cost control.”

However, HSBC has also announced it will cut $4.5 billion in expenses to mitigate the impact of negative forces such as COVID-19 and Hong Kong’s political strife. The bank further intends trim its operations in the West in favor of Asia’s fast-growth developing markets—an effort that will include a reduction of 35,000 over the next three years. “The Group’s 2019 performance was resilient, however parts of our business are not delivering acceptable returns,” Quinn said in a statement accompanying the annual report. “We are therefore outlining a revised plan to increase returns for investors, create the capacity for future investment and build a platform for sustainable growth. We have already begun to implement this plan, which my management team and I are committed to executing at pace.”

Many European banks have struggled somewhat in 2019, with some, such as UBS, Credit Suisse, ING, RBS and Barclays, either changing or looking to change top leadership. And as mentioned above, the sector saw an overall drop of 15% year-over-year. Some analysts believe that European banks are still reeling from the financial crisis of 2008 and that regulatory demands and capital requirements are hampering European banking results.

In Central and Eastern Europe, the regional win went to Poland’s Bank Pekao, which in 2019 saw its revenue per corporate client grow by 24% over the last two years, according to bank CEO Marek Lusztyn on an investor conference call. Speaking with Global Finance, Lusztyn says the bank’s success is “a result of a unique combination of deep expertise, significant experience and strong team effort of our entire corporate banking franchise, delivering landmark transactions in 2019.” He adds, “We played advisory or financing roles in transactions of the largest Polish companies, including Europe’s number one copper producer, KGHM; the biggest chain of convenience stores in Poland, Zabka; or the leading e-commerce platform in Poland, Allegro.”

Latin America was one of the few markets that saw year-over-year growth, according to Dealogic. Investment banking saw growth of 16%, and equity capital markets grew a staggering 76% to $36.7 billion; but M&A declined by 15%. Bradesco BBI, winner for top spot in Latin America, made its first international acquisition to buy BAC Florida Bank for $500 million. It is a small acquisition in terms of assets, but it puts Bradesco on the international map and gives the company’s local clients access to international markets.

In a conference call announcing its Q4 results, Leandro de Miranda Araújo, the bank’s executive deputy officer and investor-relations officer, said, “Our net profit reached an all-time high of BRL25 billion [about $6.2 billion at year’s end], a growth of 20%, and with the very good news of our operating profit growing 11.5% itself. We have kept the [return on average equity] over 20%, as you have been seeing all over the year. So it reached 20.6% and our [return on average assets was] at 1.8%.” He added, “Credit portfolio presented a robust growth of 13.8% [and] 4.6% in the last quarter.”

In the Asia-Pacific region, growth in the investment banking sector was scattered, according to Dealogic. Southeast Asia saw growth of 3%, North Asia saw growth of 2%, Japan had a decline of 14% and Australasia also had a decline of 11%.

The top investment bank award for the region went to DBS. DBS Group reported that fourth quarter net profit was up 14% from a year ago, to $1.51 billion. This was just above the $1.48 billion average estimate from five analysts, according to Refinitiv.

Tan Su Shan, group head of institutional banking at DBS, says, “Our institutional banking sector coverage teams have been reorganized to offer a sharper focus on industry verticals. We seek to deliver industry sector insights that guide our clients’ strategic direction, alert them to opportunities for debt and equity fundraising and connect them across borders with strategic investors and business partners (many of whom are also clients of DBS in different geographic markets). We have also implemented digital tools for trade, working capital and cash management that are intuitive and easy to use and enhance our clients’ ability to manage their operations.”

Investment banking for Standard Bank, the award winner for top investment bank in Africa, was strong this past year. According to its Analysis of Financial Results for 2019, Investment banking earnings “grew 12% to R3.9 billion [about $276 million at year’s end]. The business saw strong average balance sheet growth across both local and foreign currency loans. Strong competition for South African investment grade debt and higher cash reserving requirements in Nigeria negatively impacted margins. Balance sheet growth outweighed margin squeeze to deliver robust [net interest income] growth of 8%.”

In the Middle East, which had strong growth over the past year, Egypt-based EFG Hermes took honors for top investment bank in the region. The bank closed 22 transactions, valued at $33.4 billion, of which nine deals were in the equity capital markets area, seven were in the debt capital markets area and six were M&A deals. The bank also executed deals on three different exchanges: the London Stock Exchange, the Tadawul (Saudi) Exchange and the Egyptian Exchange (EGX). EFG Hermes also played a role in the above-mentioned IPO for Saudi Aramco.

Going forward, world economic results are already being tempered and hedged against what could be a severe downturn from the outbreak of COVID-19. Interest rates have come down and the global supply chain is being tested. Investment banks will surely have to weather the storm in 2020 and adjust strategies accordingly. The first half of the year will tell how much effect these events are having and how hard the investment banking sector may be hit as a result.


WORLD'S BEST INVESTMENT BANKS 2019

GLOBAL WINNERS

Category
Bank
Global Best Investment Bank J.P. Morgan
Best Boutique Investment Bank Cowen Group
Best in Emerging Markets VTB Capital
Best in Frontier Markets Halyk Finance
Best Equity Bank UBS
Best Debt Bank DBS
Best M&A Bank Morgan Stanley
Best Up & Comer Marathon Capital
Best Bank for IPOs Credit Suisse
Best Bank for New Financial Technology Investec
Best Bank for Sustainable Finance Standard Bank

REGIONAL WINNERS

North America J.P Morgan
Western Europe HSBC
Central & Eastern Europe Bank Pekao
Asia-Pacific DBS
Latin America Bradesco BBI
Middle East EFG Hermes
Africa Standard Bank

COUNTRY WINNERS

Angola Standard Bank Angola
Argentina Banco de la Nacion Argentina
Armenia Ameriabank
Australia Macquarie Bank
Austria Raiffeisen Bank International
Bahrain SICO
Belgium BNP Paribas
Botswana Stanbic Botswana
Brazil BTG Pactual
Canada RBC Capital Markets
Chile Banchile Citi Global Markets
China CICC
Colombia Banca de Inversión Bancolombia
Côte d’Ivoire SGBCI
Cyprus Bank of Cyprus
Denmark Nykredit Bank
Dominican Republic  Banco Popular Dominicano
DR Congo Rawbank
Ecuador Citi
Egypt EFG Hermes
Finland  Nordea
France Lazard
Georgia Galt & Taggart
Germany Commerzbank
Ghana  EcoBank
Greece Piraeus Bank
Hong Kong UBS
Iceland  Icelandic Investment Bank
India Avendus Capital
Indonesia Bank Mandiri 
Iraq Investment Bank of Iraq
Ireland  Allied Irish Bank
Israel  Goren Capital
Italy UniCredit
Japan Mizuho Financial Group
Jordan Bank of Jordan
Kazakhstan  Tengri Capital
Kenya  KCB
Kuwait  Markaz
Lebanon  BlomInvest
Malaysia  Maybank Investment Bank
Mauritius  Standard Bank Mauritius
Mexico  BBVA
Mongolia  Golomt Bank
Morocco  Attijariwafa Bank
Mozambique  Standard Bank
Netherlands ING
New Zealand  ASB Bank
Nigeria Coronation Merchant Bank
Norway  Handelsbanken
Oman  Bank Muscat
Pakistan Habib Bank
Peru  Banco de Credito del Peru
Philippines  BDO Capital and Investment Corporation
Poland  Bank Pekao
Portugal  Millennium BCP
Puerto Rico  Citi
Qatar  QNB Capital
Russia  Sberbank
Rwanda  Bank of Kigali
Saudi Arabia  Samba Capital
Singapore DBS
South Africa  Standard Bank
South Korea  NH Investments & Securities
Spain  BBVA
Sweden  Nordea
Switzerland  Credit Suisse
Taiwan  CTBC Bank
Thailand  Siam Commercial Bank
Turkey  Garanti BBVA
UAE  First Abu Dhabi Bank
Ukraine  Oschadbank
United Kingdom  Barclays
United States J.P. Morgan
Vietnam Vietinbank

Methodology

Global Finance editors, with input from industry experts, corporate executives, investors and consultants, used a series of criteria in order to select the winners of these awards.

  Criteria included market share, number and size of deals, service and advice, structuring capabilities, distribution network, efforts to address market conditions, innovation, pricing, after-market performance of underwritings and market reputation.

  We used information provided by the banks, as well as material gathered from the other sources, to score and select winners, based on a proprietary algorithm that assigns a different weight to each component. Deals announced or completed in 2018 were considered.

  In the review process, Global Finance has focused on the full spectrum of banks, from relatively small ones in frontier markets that have barely appeared on Wall Street’s radar screen to global banks that lead the league tables for equity, debt and M&A worldwide. The same applies to Deals Of The Year and Best Derivatives Providers: They are selected not just based on their size but on their relevance.

  This year, greater weight has been assigned to innovation and new technology than in previous years, in light of current trends in global capital markets. As a result, for the first time we have assigned an award to the banks Best For New Financial Technology on a global and regional base, as applied to investment banking.

  Many winners submitted, in support of their applications, information and perspectives that may not be publicly available. Banks that do not submit entries can still be selected as winners through Global Finance’s review process, because editors execute their own unbiased original research in addition to evaluating entries. However, experience shows that the banks that submit entries successfully presenting themselves as model financial institutions, with detailed explanations of differentiation in services for corporate clients as compared with services provided by peers, achieve better results.

            Financial institutions that submitted entries provided information in the following areas:
1) Key financials, including earnings, ROE, and market share; 2) Details of key capabilities and services offered, including deal-structuring capabilities, distribution network and staff dedicated to investment banking; 3) Innovation in financing and new product introduction; and 4) Competitive pricing and after-market performance of underwritten securities. Global Finance adheres to journalistic best practices for protecting the confidentiality of information supplied in the entries