Fair weather in FX

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JPMorgan suggests most investment banking businesses are going to hell in a handcart, but FX and rates are going to heaven in a Ferrari F50.

The US bank's Q1 results, released yesterday, didn't make particularly pretty reading for investment bankers.

Net revenues were down 52%, debt underwriting fees were down 58%, fixed income markets revenues were down 82%, and equity underwriting fees were down 9%.

Amidst this gloom, there was, however, a ray of light: the bank registered "record revenue in rates and currencies".

And where there are record revenues, there's hiring.

FX recruiters in London don't exactly paint a picture of rampant activity, but it certainly seems something's going on.

"There has been a lot of FX hiring since the beginning of the year," says Dominie Moss at Sheffield Haworth in London. "This has been particularly the case in the option trading space where volatile markets last year created a wide spread of bonus levels. This has made many traders easier to move, and encouraged some to look elsewhere."

"Clients are indicating there could be more headcount allocated over the next few months as they look to invest in the more liquid asset classes," says Neil Price of FX specialist recruiter Michael Williams Associates. "FX revenues were strong last year and have continued to be this year so banks want to increase their presence where possible."

UBS, Citigroup and ANZ have boosted London FX teams already this year. BNP Paribas, JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley and Saxobank are said to be recruiting still.

Riccardo Barbieri, head of FX and rates strategy for Europe at Bank of America, says the success of FX businesses is down to volatility: "We've got into a phase in which the major currencies have started to trend and to exhibit a lot of intra-day volatility. For people who are good traders this creates a clear opportunity to make money."

JPMorgan's ability to continue making the most of the market may prove constrained, though - last month the bank lost Patrik Edsparr, its global head of rates, FX, securitized products, fixed income, exotics and hybrids, to a hedge fund.