Sunday, June 5, 2011

Midyear, 2011: Perspectives, Outlook

Still looking for a sustained uptown?
We are all suffering fatigue waiting for a surging recovery in job markets and the general economy.  Every month or so, the news sours after a few months of hopeful, surging signs.

That--in a nutshell--describes midyear 2011.  A series of upturns and optimism followed by the stench of a momentum-killing downturn. 

MBAs in finance, especially those who embarked on careers the last decade, know these trends, teasing market movements and promising signs well. Many have adjusted to these ups and downs and press on.

As of midyear, 2011, the mood is not dismal. Uncertainty, however, always seems to be hovering overhead.  Many MBAs are finding jobs and meaningful positions in finance.  Job openings and opportunities are more prevalent now than they were in the depressed years of 2008-09.  Yet they may not be first-choice jobs or dream roles. While a select few are winning prize positions at investment banks or private-equity firms, most others are finding suitable spots at smaller institutions, boutiques and industrial companies and are content.

Consortium MBAs have seen growing opportunities in private wealth management.  The big firms, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan, continue to hire large numbers of MBAs--right out of school or with a few years of experience in other finance roles. They have convinced MBAs from top schools to explore careers beyond, say, mergers and acquisitions or bond trading.   Big banks have turned asset and wealth management in response to the crisis, regulation and the likelihood that traditional trading and banking businesses will have difficulty achieving expected levels of profitability.

In midyear, 2011, market signs are unclear. One market, nonetheless, seems to have shown renewed life signs--the IPO market.  The evidence is not necessarily from a flood new offerings, but from recent banner-headline equity deals (Groupon's announcement, Linkedin's IPO, anticipation at Twitter and Facebook).  Technology and social networks have rekindled interests in equity offerings, although investors are still reminded of the busted dot-com bubble of the early 2000s.

Months and months after a new guidelines were enacted, financial regulation is still nebulous, arcane, and uncertain.  The rules are changing, but banks, brokers and funds are still stumbling to understand what the rules will be, how they will be enforced, how detrimental they will be to their businesses, and how certain instruments will be traded, processed and cleared (derivatives, most notably).  Financial institutions are going through proper motions, but many are at a stand-still on what the regulatory picture will look like 3-5 years from now.

Meanwhile, in midyear, 2011, insider-trading indictments and court cases are in the news, reminding old-timers of the dramatic insider-trading scandals of the late 1980s and early 1990s and reminding many that history oddly repeats itself more often than we think.

Lehman and Bear Stearns collapsed three years ago. Meanwhile, the barrage of books retelling what happened (at Lehman, at Bear, at Madoff, in mortgage and derivative markets) continues.  In the first half of 2011, new books telling dramatic tales of about Madoff, Goldman Sachs, mortgage-markets, and AIG have been published.  No finance MBA can keep up with cascading reading list, although many are already familiar with the subject matter and issues. Former Merrill and U.S. Treasury official Herb Allison just wrote a short treatise, not recounting the gory past, but proposing tough solutions.

Inside business schools and at many hedge funds, efficient-market theories have been analyzed and in some cases attacked.  Many are analyzing "asymmetries" of markets. Some are calling for an overhaul or review of older concepts; the crisis proved more than ever that markets are flawed.

Top business schools are now welcoming another class.  The MBA and the business-school curriculum and experience are still criticized by pockets of pundits and the public, who blame MBA-trained leaders, managers, traders and deal-doers for market and ethical lapses of recent years.  All business schools sprint to adapt, reform and make the degree as relevant as ever.  The degree is still in demand--among students, who have applied in near-record numbers in recent years, and among financial institutions, who recruit and hire by the hundreds when markets and business grow.

Diversity topics and issues are still on the agenda.  Few signs exist that big banks, financial institutions, and public companies have reduced emphasis, although even fewer signs exist that there is a notable pipeline of under-represented minorities or women who will step up to become CEO of a major financial institution soon. As ever, there is still work to be done, especially after the torment of 2008-09 discouraged much talent to explore opportunities elsewhere.

The recovery at midyear, 2011, has been a series of starts-stops, occasional stumbles, and promising upturns.  As many economists would say, just like most recoveries.

Tracy Williams

No comments:

Post a Comment