By John D'Antona

Equity Brokerage Business Down 40% Since 2009 Crisis

It’s no secret that the U.S. institutional brokerage business is down since the financial crisis of 2009 – but by 40%?

Yes, 40%, according to a recent Greenwich Associates report. In addition, the report finds trading commissions continue to migrate away from bulge bracket brokers towards midsize/regional brokers.

Richard Johnson, Greenwich Associates

The market consultancy reports that while U.S. equities have been on a tear, with the S&P 500 increasing by 3.5 times since 2009, brokerages have not participated in the bull market. For the 12 months through the first quarter of 2017, total U.S. equity commissions dropped 13%, from $9.7 billion to $8.4 billion. This latest drop leaves the total institutional equity wallet down 40% from its peak in 2009.

The new Greenwich Report, “Brokers Adapt to Shrinking Equity Commissions,” explains that a combination of factors has led to this decline:

  • The steady appreciation of stock prices has meant that many asset managers see less need to turn over their portfolios; buy and hold has been an effective strategy
  • Lower volatility has also contributed to lower turnover
  • Equity assets in the U.S. have been shifting into passive funds—which generally turn over less frequently and execute at a lower commission rate
  • Commission rates have also been trending down for most of this period

“Investors recognize the need to compensate their brokers for services like research and liquidity,” said Richard Johnson, Vice President of Market Structure and Technology at Greenwich Associates and author of the report.  “As a result, they continue to direct trading volume to higher-priced ‘high-touch’ trades executed through broker sales traders, which remains the dominant execution channel used by buy-side traders.”

Commission Rates Tick Higher

If there is one bright spot for equities brokers, Johnson noted, is that commission rates have stabilized and have even seen a slight bounce in the last couple of years.

“Equity commissions had been on a steady decline ever since the abolition of fixed commissions in 1975, but that trend seems to be over,” Johnson said. “With volumes remaining flat to down, there is no further room to accommodate rate reductions.”

For the full report, please click here


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