Market uncertainty dents fees accrued by investment bankers

Investment bank fees fell during 2018, with Chinese banks by far the biggest fee earners for underwriting bonds, while foreign banks outperformed in the other asset classes

Investment banks did not wrestle with just volatile market conditions in 2018, they also had to deal with shrinking fees across different asset classes.

Figures provided by Refinitiv show that investment banks generated fees totalling US$16.04 billion in Asia, excluding Australasia and Japan, as at December 21 2018, representing a decline from over US$19.32 billion accumulated during a comparable period a year ago.

The banks notched up their biggest fees from underwriting bonds, worth a princely US$6.69 billion, although this amount was down from over US$7.13 billion in 2017 as the volume of G3 bond issuances fell in 2018 after witnessing record-breaking activity in the previous two years.

The Chinese banks once again dominated the bond league table, occupying nine positions out of the 10 biggest fee earners during the period. Bank of China (BoC) led the competition with fees amounting to US$442.6 million for a 6.6% share of wallet, up from US$402.90 million in 2017. It was able to maintain the leadership despite arranging fewer deals during 2018, which totalled 993, compared with 1,022 deals the previous year.

CITIC followed BoC with fees amounting to US$380.5 million for a wallet share of 5.7%, up from US$294.9 million in 2017. Unlike the BoC, this bank's higher fees came as the bank arranged more deals in 2018, with this number reaching 871, compared with 587 deals in the previous year.

The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) completed the dominance of the Chinese banks, attaining a top three ranking by generating bond fees amounting to US$278 million, earned via arranging 880 deals for a wallet share of 4.2%. This figure represented a decline from the US$323.5 million fees the bank earned in 2017 from arranging 983 deals.

HSBC was again the only non-Chinese bank in the top 10 league table, with this UK headquartered bank earning fees amounting to US$184.4 million for a wallet share of 2.8% - good for ninth spot. The amount was down from US$212 million it generated in 2017 – which placed it as the seventh biggest bond fee earner during the year.

In terms of equity the fees told a similar story, with investment banks generated less fees during 2018, amounting to almost US$4.30 billion, compared with more than US$6.31 billion in 2017. Fewer deals were arranged during the year, at 1,604, against 2,243 deals in 2017. The Wall Street banks dislodged the Chinese banks from the top of the league table with Goldman Sachs earning the biggest fees at US$311.3 million for a wallet share of 7.2%, followed by Morgan Stanley with fees of US$228.5 million for a wallet share of 5.3%.

Altogether, six foreign banks were among the 10 biggest fee earners from arranging equity deals in 2018, a turnaround from the 2017 league table when eight of the top 10 fee earners were Chinese banks. CITIC, the highest-rated Chinese bank in the league table at number three with fees amounting to US$226.8 million, suffered a big drop from earnings achieved during 2017 when it generated fees of US$364.8 million and in so doing topped the list of fee earners during the year.

Fees generated from arranging loans in 2018 also fell, to almost US$2.70 billion from over US$3.24 billion in the previous year, despite benefitting from the drop in the volume of G3 bond issuances. BoC was the dominant fee earner in terms of loans in 2018 as this bank generated a total of US$606.8 million from arranging 221 deals for a wallet share of 22.5%. The amount, however, was lower than the comparable 2017 period when fees of US$700.4 million from 243 deals were generated.

Despite BoC's drop in fees, these earnings remained much bigger than those achieved by second placed HSBC, which generated fees of US$164.3 million for a wallet share of 6.1%. This bank performed better in 2018 as it arranged 65 deals compared with just 56 deals in 2017, a year in which HSBC earned fees of US$131.4 million, well below the figure achieved the following year.

Actually, non-Chinese banks also dominated the loan league table with six of them among the top 10 fee earners, including Standard Chartered, DBS, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial, Mizuho Financial Group and Overseas-Chinese Banking Corporation.

Fees generated from mergers and acquisitions (M&A) likewise fell in 2018, to US$2.35 billion from US$2.63 billion in the previous year. Goldman Sachs emerged as the biggest M&A fee earner with US$169.2 million for a wallet share of 7.2%, representing an increase from US$120.7 million in 2017.

The US bank usurped ICBC, which dropped from the top of the league table in 2017 to second place as fees generated in 2018 plummeted to US$148.4 million for a wallet share of 6.3% from US$254.5 million in the previous year.

Credit Suisse generated the third largest M&A fees in 2018 with US$134.9 million for a wallet share of 5.3%, up from US$123.2 million in 2017.

CICC and CITIC were the only other Chinese banks in the top 10 league table, with Morgan Stanley, J.P. Morgan, Citi, UBS and Deutsche Bank making up the list of top M&A fee earners. Deutsche Bank was actually among the best performing banks in the M&A space as the fees it generated surged from US$23.6 million in 2017 to US$88.7 million in 2018.

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