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NEW YORK (
JPMorgan Chase's(JPM - Get Report)announcement Friday that it will look to exit the physical commodities business steps up the pressure on rivals to follow suit.
"All the banks with commodity units are watching and waiting to see if regulators will force them out of physical commodity trading completely or [require them to] make a minor modification. There is no panic but there is a high level of anxiety," says George Stein, managing director of recruiting firm Commodity Talent LLC.
Goldman Sachs(GS - Get Report) and
Morgan Stanley(MS - Get Report) have owned physical commodities assets to supplement their ownership of paper assets going back as far as the 1980s. They continue to be major players in physical commodities, as do other global banking and securities giants such as
Citigroup(C - Get Report),
Bank of America(BAC - Get Report),
Deutsche Bank(DB) and
Ongoing scrutiny of banks' size and power by Congress, regulators and the press continues nearly five years after the historic bankruptcy of
Lehman Brothers on Sept. 15, 2008, and the spotlight has shifted to commodities of late.
On July 23, the Senate Banking Committee held a hearing entitled "Examining Financial Holding Companies: Should Banks Control Power Plants, Warehouses, and Oil Refineries?"
On Tuesday, meanwhile, JPMorgan
settled energy market manipulation charges.
Morgan Stanley, Goldman and JPMorgan "know more about the trading of these goods because they store the aluminum in two dozen warehouses in Detroit, or because they're moving the oil in these tankers. They know more about transactions, know more about price, know more about movement of goods, so that means they can trade on inside information, it gives them an advantage in proprietary trading, it means they can manipulate markets," said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) during the hearing in a speech from the Senate floor. Brown also expressed concern the banks have access to cheap funding from the Federal Reserve to finance these activities and that they "are exposing themselves and us, the economy, to risks that could threaten our financial system."
Brown's comments came three days after
The New York Times published a
front page article raising questions about Goldman's aluminum storage activities. Also, the Federal Reserve is reviewing exceptions it made to rules allowing banks it regulates to own physical commodities, according to several news reports.