Guru watch: good times for banks, says Steve Eisman

Steve Eisman of Neuberger Berman Group is happy about the banking sector – at least for now.


Steve Eisman of Neuberger Berman Group (and of The Big Short fame) is generally happy about the banking sector, at least for now. In his view most banking problems centre on poor credit quality and at the "moment credit quality has never been better", so it is "harder to make mistakes". The only trouble spot is subprime car loans, but this sector is "too small" to pose "a systematic risk" as subprime housing loans did in 2007. Bank shares have also been cushioned by low interest rates, since "in a zero-rate world sins are forgiven".

In the longer run, there might be a gradual relaxation of standards after US president Donald Trump appoints a replacement for US Federal Reserve governor Daniel Tarullo, a key regulator who did a "great job of deleveraging and derisking the banks". Even then, the first impact will only be felt next summer when the next round of stress tests are due to take place. The need to get 60 votes in the Senate to pass legislation should also stop the Trump administration embarking on more substantial deregulation. Indeed, Eisman is confident that it's "going to be very hard" to repeal, or even change, Dodd-Frank.

Of course, zero rates won't last forever. Eisman predicts a total of three rate rises this year, and another three in 2017. So by the end of next year they should be "a lot closer to normal levels". But while this will make life a bit more difficult for banks, it's good news for asset managers. "Low interest rates have made active management much harder since it is not obvious how to allocate capital in a zero-rate world." While the long-term trend toward passive management won't stop, higher rates will "make active management a bit easier".

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Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri