OPINION: FinServ as Beaten-Down Cyclical Stock

Terry Flanagan

Back from three days in Chicago for FIA Expo, I found one of the major themes of the conference to be — quite unsurprisingly — cost reduction.

To wit:

-One fintech executive told me he expects 2015 to be the year of reducing costs. I said haven’t the past few years already been this? He said yes, but next year might really be that year.

-Options exchange leaders said the burst of volatility in mid-October was nice, but they can’t plan their business on anything like that level of activity. Hope for better days, but plan for worse ones.

-A CEO at a large proprietary trading shop said he expects more consolidation in the prop space, simply because operating costs are meaningfully higher and trading profits are as elusive as ever.

What does this all mean?

It can be looked at in a couple different ways.

One perspective is just a flat-out times are tough, gloom and doom will be forevermore, and hands should be wrung.

But a more constructive interpretation is that years of rationalization in the finserv space has these firms like compressed coils ready to spring, if and when market activity returns to healthy levels for a sustained period of time.

It’s like a maker of widgets amid a cyclical slowdown in demand — after closing factories, shedding staff and streamlining production, that widget maker should be poised to mint money if and when demand returns.

Despite the still-prevalent discussions about cost reduction at FIA Expo, there was broader optimism observed about the ‘feel’ of the conference, and how that was more positive than in previous years.

So maybe finserv will prove to be that cyclical stock that’s now at its low point. Nobody knows when an upturn will happen, but when it does, it could be powerful.

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