Hat tip to Rick for sending this along, from Yahoo Finance:
NEW YORK (AP) — A year after the financial system nearly collapsed, the nation’s biggest banks are bigger and regaining their appetite for risk. Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and others — which have received tens of billions of dollars in federal aid — are once more betting big on bonds, commodities and exotic financial products, trading that nearly stopped during the financial crisis.
There have been no significant changes to the federal rules governing their behavior. Proposals that have been made to better monitor the financial system and to police the products banks sell to consumers have been held up by lobbyists, lawmakers and turf-protecting regulators.
Five of the biggest banks — Goldman, JPMorgan, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Bank of America — posted second-quarter profits totaling $13 billion. That’s more than double what they made in the second quarter of 2008 and nearly two-thirds as much as the $20.7 billion they earned in the second quarter of 2007 — when the economy was strong.
Meanwhile, Bank of America and Wells Fargo today originate 41 percent of all home loans that are backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, according to Inside Mortgage Finance. The banks made $284 billion in such loans in the first half of this year, up from $124 billion during the same period last year.
“The big banks now are more powerful than before,” said Johnson, now a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management. “Their market share has grown and they have a lot of clout in Washington.”
One investment gaining popularity is a direct descendant of the mortgage-backed securities that devastated many banks last year. To get some lesser performing assets off their books, banks are taking slices of bonds made up of high-risk mortgage securities and pooling them with slices of bonds comprised of low-risk mortgage securities. With the blessing of debt ratings agencies, banks are then selling this class of bonds as a low-risk investment. The market for these products has hit $30 billion, according to Morgan Stanley.
“It may be unpleasant to hear that the traders are riding high,” said Walter Bailey, chief executive of boutique merchant banking firm EpiGroup. “But, hey, it’s a pay-for-performance thing, and they’re performing like mad.”
And that means the return of another Wall Street mainstay: Lavish compensation.
After 10 of the largest banks received a $250 billion lifeline from the government last fall, some lawmakers were outraged that employees were being paid seven-figure salaries even though their companies nearly collapsed. A handful of top executives, including Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit, have agreed to accept pay of just $1 this year. But the compensation of most high-performing traders hasn’t changed.
Goldman spent $6.6 billion in the second quarter on pay and benefits, 34 percent more than two years ago. And Citigroup, now one-third owned by the government after taking $45 billion in federal money, owes a star energy trader $100 million.