Paying humans to trade stocks is a terrible business, exhibit 77

Paying humans to trade stocks is a terrible business, exhibit 77
Image: AP Photo / Mark Lennihan
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In a press release relatively devoid of specifics Citigroup announced plans to take a $1 billion charge and cut 11,000 workers today. But one interesting tidbit caught our eye. Citigroup said that part of its plan to cut 1,900 workers from its Institutional Clients Group was

…designed to streamline our client coverage model in Banking and improve overall productivity in our Markets business, especially in areas experiencing continued low profitability such as cash equities.

Translation: Paying human beings to call clients on the phone in order to buy and sell stocks is a terrible business.

Citigroup’s Institutional Clients Group was formed in the fall of 2007, when Citi smushed together its investment bank, which handles mergers and acquisitions, manages bond offerings, and sells and trades securities, with its alternative investment unit, which was a sort of repository for the investments in hedge funds that Citigroup made during the peak of the financial bubble. But the writing has been on the wall for flesh and blood stock traders for years now.

In January, RBS—the UK bank still majority owned by Her Majesty’s government—spotlighted the cash equities business as a particular dog, saying it will close or sell it along with the mergers-and-acquisitions and equity capital markets unit, which organizes IPOs for companies that want to go public. Even banks that are doing well, like the Royal Bank of Canada, have said that stock trading is looking downright awful lately. In a recent earnings release officials at the bank said revenues in its global equities business were down 10%, “largely reflecting reduced fees and an industry-wide decrease in volumes.” There’s very little mystery here. With computerized trading crushing margins down to nearly nothing, stock traders really need to find a new line of work.