Picture: AFP/PASCAL GUYOT
Picture: AFP/PASCAL GUYOT

Paris — The difficult trading conditions at the end of last year remain a lingering threat for investment banks, which are being forced to restructure their businesses to adapt, said BNP Paribas chair Jean Lemierre.

“There is ample liquidity everywhere in the world; the corporate sector needs less protection against volatility because there is less volatility, but volatility can happen in a very harsh way for a few days,” Lemierre said in a Bloomberg Television interview on Tuesday. The environment seen in 2018 is continuing “now because of the monetary policy decided both by the US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank (ECB).”

Lemierre is joining a growing chorus of bankers who warn that markets haven’t returned to normal. UBS Group CEO Sergio Ermotti last month described the first quarter as one of the most challenging in years. While Lemierre stopped short of providing details on his bank’s performance this year, he hinted that restructuring efforts happening at “all banks” could help improve earnings.

“Banks are adapting to these circumstances,” Lemierre said from Brussels. “If you think about the results of the activities of the banks, probably 2019 will be different because of the adaptation of the banking sector to these realities.”

Trading at BNP Paribas slumped at the end of last year as it lost about $80m on derivatives trades linked to the US stock market. France’s largest bank decided to close its proprietary trading unit and US commodity derivatives business as part of a broader revamp.

Rival Société Générale is bracing for even deeper measures at its investment bank, with plans to cut €8bn of risk-weighted assets at its global-markets unit. Deputy CEO Séverin Cabannes has told staff that top management isn’t betting on a turnaround anytime soon for the markets business.

Bloomberg