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Low rates and new regulations keep market conditions challenging, says Greenwich Associates

Fixed-income dealers who thought market conditions could not get any worse this year have been proven wrong. 

In this environment, dealers retaining scale and smaller, potentially more nimble competitors managed the best in terms of market share or gaining new customers. 
Four global banks – Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, Citi, and J.P. Morgan – are essentially deadlocked atop the US fixed-income market for overall market share, which is driven by volumes in government bonds, interest-rate derivatives and MBS pass-throughs (together accounting for more than 80 per cent of total volume covered). These four banks capture shares between 11.4 per cent and 12.1 per cent in overall volume over the past 12 months, leaving them in a statistical tie for the leading spot, while Barclays rounds out the top 5 with a market share of 10.3 per cent. These firms are the 2014 Greenwich Share Leaders in Overall US Fixed-Income Trading. 
J.P. Morgan and Bank of America Merrill Lynch are the 2014 Greenwich Share Leaders in US Fixed-Income Credit with market shares of 14.3 per cent and 13.7 per cent, respectively, followed by Citi at 12.5 per cent.  Credit Suisse (13.1 per cent) and Bank of America Merrill Lynch (12.2 per cent) are the 2014 Greenwich Share Leaders in US Fixed-Income Securitized, and Citi is the 2014 Greenwich Share Leader in US Municipal Bonds and Derivatives.
Two main factors contributed to the tough year: low rates and new regulations. Low rates and a lack of volatility kept fixed-income trading volumes distressingly low and left a number of dealers and investors on the wrong side of the market as rates declined.
New, tougher capital reserves requirements made the balance sheet the biggest issue and dealers are more constrained than ever as to how much inventory they can carry and how much liquidity they can provide. New regulations have also sharply increased compliance costs as banks were forced to hire hundreds of compliance officers and upgrade IT systems. 
“The bottom line for fixed-income dealers: revenues are down and costs are up,” says Greenwich Associates consultant Frank Feenstra.
Amid these conditions, the banks faring best are those with the largest product platforms, along with smaller, niche players, while mid-sized dealers with larger infrastructures but lower revenues are getting squeezed. Five of the six biggest US fixed-income dealers saw an increase in market share over the last year and the collective market share held by the top five sell-side firms increased to 57 per cent from 53 per cent a year ago.
“We’re seeing a greater concentration of share among the top banks as buy-side customers try to stay as relevant as possible with the big banks,” says Greenwich Associates consultant James Borger. “But we are also seeing investors seek out liquidity by adding more dealers to their list of counterparties, especially as a few banks have reduced their commitment to the space.”

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