Sometimes cynicism will serve you well as a trader. Right now, the big investment banks look still like great opportunities based on a cynic's view. Very few stocks during the run from the March lows offered better return opportunities than the major investment banks. Goldman Sachs ( GS), for example, after bottoming below $50 a share before the start of the year, closed on Tuesday at $176.51. Morgan Stanley ( MS), at one point thought to be in real trouble of 'Lehman-like' dissolution and priced at under $7 closed on Tuesday at $33.70. Much of the recovery that these shares have seen is merely because these institutions didn't see the end that some predicted for them. It now appears certain that these two, along with the other consolidated powerhouse JPMorgan Chase ( JPM) will be the three strongest investment banks survivors of last year's carnage. And here's where the cynicism starts to figure in. With all the anger, bailout money, congressional hearings and proposed legislation, it seems also clear that all the mechanisms that allowed these banks to make outsized profits from easy leveraged capital and monopolized derivative markets are still firmly in place and unlikely to change. Profits for the biggest banks are poised to break all records in this recession year. Between Goldman, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan, Bloomberg News estimates a $30 billion bonus pool this year, up 60% from last year and the highest since 2007. Now, we can all be outraged at this, and we should be. But, better yet, we should try to make some money from it instead.
Trading from derivatives is still the driving engine to a large portion of the profits banked by the big three, particularly in fixed income -- where every financially distressed commercial entity and municipality had to look again to the same banks that had abandoned them in the last year for necessary refinancing and revitalization. From the oil and other commodity perch, trading in 2009 looks also to be pacing the best year ever. With oil zooming from a low of $35 a barrel to a high of $82 a barrel in less than eight months, it is clear that volatility is the key to high profits, and not necessarily high or low prices. Both Goldman and Morgan Stanley have said 2009 will be "particularly strong" as they continue to refrain from quoting hard numbers. If you're like the rest of the American people, this can only make you mad. But, you can't get even. So, if you can't beat 'em, maybe it's best to join 'em and buy these two powerhouse stocks. But, because they've run so much, there's timing involved and here's how to work it. Whenever there's further talk of reform bills and regulation from the Congress, these two banks necessarily take a hit in share price. This happened as talk of the bill sponsored by Rep. Barney Frank (D., Mass.) and its specifics made the rounds in the media in the past week. We saw Morgan Stanley slide down from $35 to $32 and Goldman trade from about $187 a share to closer to $170.
These bills, which are still in congressional committees, will reemerge into the spotlight again in the next two weeks. That will be your opportunity to buy in to these three great Wall Street titans. That's because after all the bills, discussion, house committees and posturing, nothing is going to materially change. And these three banks will continue to control 97% of the derivatives market and the profits from it, as they have before the crisis began. You could stay mad -- but the cynical trader in me says that you might as well look to get in on some of it.