Based upon recent reports, you could be forgiven for thinking that large international investment banks are giving up on the Asian dream. Standard Chartered, Nomura, CIMB, Macquarie, RBS, Barclays and Goldman Sachs are all making redundancies on the continent. Latin America suddenly looks like the place to be instead.
The results, however, tell a different story. Far from pulling back, many international banks are still expanding their investment banking operations in Asia – quietly.
Take Credit Suisse. In the first quarter, Asia accounted for 20% of group revenues at Credit Suisse, up from 16% a few years ago. Ok, this may be down to the Swiss bank’s expanding wealth management business in Asia (the bank had 510 relationship managers on the continent at the end of 2014, up from 460 one year earlier), but the strong global performance of the investment bank in the first quarter may also have contributed.
Deutsche Bank has yet to report for the first quarter of 2015. However, in its annual review for 2014, Deutsche Bank said 19.4% of its 98,138 staff were based in Asia Pacific. This was up from 18,175 in the region from the previous year. Deutsche has been hiring across private banking and investment banking.
In confirmation of the trend, Harvey Schwartz, CFO of GS, when talking about equity business, noted that "the trend in Asia has been much better" during last week’s 1st quarter results conference call. Schwartz also stressed that "we are pretty optimistic about the opportunities there" in the longer term, suggesting Standard Chartered may have closed its Asian equities business prematurely.
Lastly, revenues from continuing operations at Citi’s Institutional Clients Group (its investment bank) in Asia rose by an impressive 32% year-on-year in the first quarter. – Faster than anywhere else in the world.
At the same time, there are cuts. Barclays’ 2014 annual report shows that APAC employees went from 18,500 at the end of 2013 to 18,200 last year. That’s a reduction, but it’s not exactly cataclysmic. Anyone who says Asian investment banking jobs are plummeting needs to take a closer look at the reality.