National / International News

Booming markets haven't translated to big profits on Wall Street

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-25 12:29

Markets have been setting records pretty much every other week for months, investors are making record money... and Wall Street?

Well, it’s looking a little lean.

"I think it’s really tough, even for people who are really good at it, to be honest," says Jesse Marrus, president of StreetID, a financial careers service. He says jobs on Wall Street have been drying up. "It’s definitely an ‘eat what you kill’ business, so there are people losing their positions in that space."

Why is there less of a killing to be made for Wall Street workers? 

"Trading volumes are way lower than they were," explains Max Wolff, chief economist at Citizen VC. Trading volumes - a.k.a. how many trades are done per day - is where Wall Street makes its money. Fewer trades mean a lot fewer commissions. Trading volume has been really low since the financial crisis. Last year, the number of trades was a third lower than it was in 2009.

A big reason for the low trading volume is the low level of investor enthusiasm. "It's no secret that this is one of the world’s most hated rallies," says Wolff. "It’s been pretty clear that the markets got well ahead of the macroeconomic health of the U.S. and they've stayed there. And everyone kept waiting for this correction that didn’t come and slowly, begrudgingly people jumped on board, because they couldn’t afford just to watch other people make money forever. But they didn’t believe in it and they definitely don’t want to catch the elevator ride down that everyone’s afraid may come."

So investors are putting their money in the markets and leaving it there: They’re not buying a hot new stock or selling it off based on a hot tip. Instead, they’re buying and holding. "For there to be trades, there have to be differences of opinion," says Lawrence White, a professor of Economics at the NYU Stern School of Business. "Somebody has to think, 'It’s a good time to buy!' and somebody else has to think, 'It’s a good time to sell!' When trading volumes are lower, it just means there’s less diversity of opinion, more consensus."

All of that consensus has had a very chilling impact on Wall Street. "It’s really alarming for the people who are in the broker/dealer seats that really rely on the trading volumes," says Marrus. "Despite the record highs, it’s still really hard for them to make the commissions that they were making and make the livings that they were making because the volume’s low and the volatilities are so low."

But even if volatility and volume come back, Wall Street workers probably won't be back to the good old days. Electronic trading has replaced brokers and traders to a large extent and the future Wall Street broker will probably look a lot more like Hal than a power player in a pin-striped suit.

In A Complex Web Of Tunnels, Israel Draws Its Red Line

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-25 12:15

Both the government and the people of Israel have been determined to continue the country's ground invasion in Gaza, despite a growing wave of international criticism. Israelis have been shaken by claims that Hamas has a heavily fortified network of tunnels leading from the Gaza Strip into Israel.

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Gaza Cease-Fire Still Just Out Of Reach: What Does Each Side Want?

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-25 12:15

Secretary of State John Kerry is trying again to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, as casualty counts rise inexorably higher. NPR's Emily Harris explains both sides' demands.

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For Islamic State, Victories In Iraq Mean Momentum In Syria

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-25 12:15

The militant group that calls itself the Islamic State have begun a new round of fighting with the Syrian regime, surrounding a base outside its stronghold in Raqqa and launching offensives in Aleppo province and Kurdish regions. The death toll in Syria this week reportedly has reached 1,700, most of whom are combatants of one sort or another.

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Central American Leaders Stop By White House To Talk Border Crisis

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-25 12:15

Central American presidents met with President Obama, discussing the influx of unaccompanied children crossing the border. So far, Obama has not seen eye to eye with Congress on possible solutions.

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England's Proud wins butterfly gold

BBC - Fri, 2014-07-25 12:15
Teenager Ben Proud wins England's first swimming gold of the Commonwealth Games in the men's 50m butterfly final.

Pa. Hospital Sees Gun Fight Between Psychiatrist And Patient

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-25 12:15

On Thursday, a psychiatric patient opened fire at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital outside Philadelphia, killing a caseworker and injuring his psychiatrist. The psychiatrist returned fire with a gun of his own, injuring the gunman. Both patient and psychiatrist survived the gun fight.

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Army War College Opens A Probe Into Sen. Walsh's Alleged Plagiarism

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-25 12:15

The U.S. Army War College has determined in a preliminary review that Sen. John Walsh of Montana appeared to have plagiarized his final paper to earn a master's degree. An investigative panel is reviewing the evidence.

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Leading Ebola Doctor Stricken With The Disease Himself

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-25 12:15

Dr. Sheik Umar Khan, the head doctor fighting the Ebola virus outbreak in Sierra Leone, has begun to exhibit symptoms of the disease. For more details on the situation, Audie Cornish speaks with Dr. Daniel G. Bausch, a colleague of Khan's and an associate professor at the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

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CAR rebel leader rejects ceasefire

BBC - Fri, 2014-07-25 12:09
Seleka rebels in the Central African Republic reject a ceasefire deal and demand the country be partitioned between Muslims and Christians.

Butler 'crushed to death by lift'

BBC - Fri, 2014-07-25 12:09
Police investigate the death of a butler who was fatally injured while working at a Tudor mansion in Lincolnshire.

England's Rowsell wins pursuit gold

BBC - Fri, 2014-07-25 11:56
England's Joanna Rowsell wins gold in the Commonwealth individual pursuit but Jason Kenny has to settle for sprint silver.

Home nations continue judo dominance

BBC - Fri, 2014-07-25 11:46
England win three gold medals and Scotland one on day two of the Commonwealth Games judo in Glasgow.

VIDEO: LatAm Beats: Lucas Santtana

BBC - Fri, 2014-07-25 11:39
Rising star and genre bender Lucas Santtana is one of the most prolific and internationally acclaimed Brazilian singers and composers.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on rural America

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-25 11:21

The Agricultural Act of 2014 – also known as the Farm Bill – was passed by Congress earlier this year. We talked with Secretary Tom Vilsack of the U.S. Department of Agriculture about what he thinks should happen next:

On agricultural business in rural America:

“I think it’s important for the folks to understand that there’s great profit opportunity and business opportunity in rural America. We’re about 75 percent of the land mass in the United States. The vast majority of America is located in rural areas. It’s where most of our food comes from, a lot of our water. So there’s an importance to this place and that’s why I think it’s worthy of attention and worthy of investment.”

Vilsack says we need to think more about agricultural products beyond food and fuel. He also said the infrastructure needs of rural America are well documented and need improvement:

“The American Society of Civil Engineers suggests that our infrastructure would rank a D+ - well, that’s not good enough for us to be competitive in a global economy.”

Rural America has had a hard time bouncing back from the recession. He says this bill will supply for jobs in that area:

“There are a lot of people looking for work that maybe have a community college education, maybe a high school education. These construction jobs, these trade jobs are great opportunities for them to rebuild the middle class.”

The Average American Man Is Too Big For His Britches

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-25 11:10

Growing waistlines, a savvy clothing industry and good old-fashioned stubbornness have kept many men in pants that don't fit. It doesn't have to be this way.

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US firm withdraws Mothercare offer

BBC - Fri, 2014-07-25 11:04
US retailer Destination Maternity withdraws a takeover offer for Mothercare, saying it was clear shareholders wanted a "significant increase" in the offer.

Eleanor Bron joins The Archers cast

BBC - Fri, 2014-07-25 10:49
Actress Eleanor Bron becomes the latest cast member of Radio 4's rural drama series The Archers, playing a character who first appeared in it 60 years ago.

Are Opponents Of The Death Penalty Contributing To Its Problems?

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-25 10:38

It's become an article of faith among supporters of capital punishment that abolitionists are doing everything they can to undermine executions, putting up hurdles and then complaining about delays.

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'Ace' Greenberg and the rise (and fall) of Bear Stearns

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-25 10:21

Alan “Ace” Greenberg, who rose from a Bear Stearns clerk in 1949 to become the firm’s CEO in 1978, died Friday at 86. The cause was complications from cancer.

When he joined the investment bank, it was a little, scrappy company. It rose to become one of the industry’s biggest, but never lost its outsider image, until it nearly collapsed in 2008. JPMorganChase acquired the company at a bargain basement price, in one of the first moves of the impending financial crisis. 

Ace Greenberg came from another era of Wall Streeters. He had no Ivy League degree. He was born in Kansas, and he grew up in Oklahoma. 

“He liked to gamble, he liked magic, he liked bridge, and, of course, the only way to legally gamble at that time was to go to Wall Street,” says William D. Cohan, author of “House of Cards, A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street,” a book that chronicles the fall of Bear Stearns.

During his career, Greenberg’s trades made a lot of money, and by 1978, he was the boss, instilling in the company a culture both of risk taking and frugality, reusing envelopes and giving new employees welcome packets with a note and some supplies. 

As former Bear Stearns trader Lee Munson remembers it, the note said, “You have 50 rubber bands and a box of paper clips, and use them wisely throughout your career at Bear Stearns because you’re not going to get any more.”

Greenberg stepped aside as CEO in 1993, making way for his successor, James Cayne. He had first met Cayne playing bridge.

“Bridgeplaying was the Facebook of their time,” says Cohan. 

As Bear Stearns was starting to unravel in 2007, Cohan says Cayne was in communicado at a bridge tournament. And, he says Greenberg developed a grudge against his former friend and successor for driving the firm into the ground.

“That, of course, ignores Ace’s role in it because Ace was part of the firm’s DNA,” Cohan says. 

Greenberg was on the executive committee when the firm was sold to JPMorganChase. Greenberg told host Kai Ryssdal on this program in 2010 that he didn’t have much influence by that point. 

“I did what I could. I tried as hard as I could. Kai, you have to understand that I was a very very small shareholder of Bear Stearns during this period,” Greenberg said. 

He told “Marketplace” that what he regretted most were all the Bear Stearns workers who lost their jobs in 2008.

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