Over the last few years, Goldman Sachs has undertaken one of the biggest bets in its history. It is trying to change its DNA as a pillar of high finance to become a broad financial services company that includes a large consumer-facing business. This led to the launch of its new business, Marcus, which is a consumer investment and lending unit. So far, the results have not been pretty. The bank has lost about $1.3 bn from investing in Marcus, and the default rates on its loans have been much higher than average, causing it to pull back from the space somewhat. It has also caused a lot of internal tension at the bank, with many senior partners leaving as the company completely overhauls itself. On the positive side, the bank has pulled in $50 bn in consumer deposits, which is a new source of funding it never thought it would have access to.
FINSUM: Goldman’s stock is still at 2014 levels. That says it all.
Bloomberg has published a very interesting article arguing that China’s economy and financial system might be on the edge of implosion. The publication mentions that the government’s bailout of Baoshang Bank last month has put money markets on edge, and for the first time, short-term lending between big institutions has started to freeze up. For the first time in decades, lenders are facing the prospect of defaults and haircuts on loans to other financial institutions. This has led funding costs for companies to shoot higher.
FINSUM: As is the norm with China, we have little direct insight into this. However, if you take a step back and look at the overall pressure on the economy from the trade war and combine it with the data above, it does sound like something very nasty could be brewing.
If you have been paying attention to the mortgage market, you will see that some of the most worrying lending activities from the pre-Crisis era are returning. For instance, there has been a sharp recent rise in loans to non-traditional borrowers, or those who have trouble proving their income. The amount of such loans looks to have almost quadrupled in 2018 versus the year before. So far these loans look to be healthy, but there are concerns that in a downturn such mortgages could deteriorate quickly.
FINSUM: These loans are subject to more stringent regulatory standards than back before the Crisis, but this is certainly something to keep an eye on.
One would think that 2018 is the perfect time to boost lending to consumers. The economy is strong, the job market is robust, and things are generally humming along nicely. Think again, as US banks are worried about US consumer credit quality and are starting to reign in lending. Bad debt is rising and so is the amount of bad credit banks are having to swallow. Beyond just fundamentals, the competition to lend has made the market uber-competitive, which heightens the risks for lenders because of weaker terms.
FINSUM: Consumer credit is tightening its belt across the board as credit balloons and standards fall. We wonder how much this tightening might impact the economy over the next year.
There is a new big asset class getting very popular on Wall Street. You may think it is some new esoteric structured credit or volatility product. But guess what, it is just about the oldest product in the world—business lending, or “direct-lending” as it is being called. It has been increasingly apparent on the fringes that big Wall Street players, like Goldman Sachs, have recently taken an interest in direct lending. Now, the whole Street is getting in on the action. Major private shops like KKR and others have started direct lending funds, and the area has returned handsomely, up over 20% this year. The idea of the funds is to lend to businesses and whose credit excludes them from the usual channels.
FINSUM: These funds seem likely to do well until a recession or period of deleveraging occurs, at which time they are likely to see high levels of defaults.