The financial breakdown in 2008 left an indelible mark on the banking system and left global investment banks with tighter regulatory requirements.
The shortcomings exposed during the GFC included inadequacies in corporate governance and risk management practices for investment banking activities. Multinational banking group Macquarie Group Ltd (ASX: MQG) survived the financial crisis, but it was forced to look at its business model in view of stricter regulations globally in the years after the GFC.
A shift to annuity style business
With a market capitalisation of around $49 billion, Macquarie Group is Australia’s fifth largest bank. It has a minuscule market share in the retail bank sector compared to the big four banks – Australia and New Zealand Banking GrpLtd (ASX: ANZ), Commonwealth Bank of Australia (ASX: CBA), National Australia Bank Ltd. (ASX: NAB), and Westpac Banking Corp (ASX: WBC).
The bulk of Macquarie’s earnings traditionally came from its trading desks and advisory fees – in FY14, they made up 68% of the group’s revenue – but from 2015, Macquarie began scaling up its annuity style businesses amid changing market conditions. Annuity style businesses refer to businesses that generate steady income with low risk. In Macquarie’s case, these are its asset management, asset finance and retail banking services, which produce recurring revenue year in, year out.
These annuity style businesses contributed less than 30% to the group earnings 10 years ago, but made up 63% of its net profit in FY20. The transformation to a more predictable earnings stream is one of the main reasons why Macquarie’s share price is much higher today (+300%) compared to October 2010.
As the group successfully navigated COVID-19 relatively unscathed, the Macquarie share price has returned to its pre-COVID levels of around $135. The banking group has proven its ability to grow its asset management business, which makes up 40% of its net profit according to Macquarie’s annual general meeting result in 2020.
The rise of renewable energy and infrastructure
Macquarie has focused on its less volatile asset management business to free up capital, protect its balance sheet and to comply with stricter regulatory requirements. This has changed the group’s business model from investment banking to a more balanced one.
In the asset management space, infrastructure and renewable energy are Macquarie’s 2 main growth drivers. In the near term, the annuity style businesses are expected to be hit by the timing in asset realisation due to the pandemic. This will impose some impediments on the asset sale process.
However, as a leading asset manager, the banking group’s asset management business has proven more defensive. Low interest rates support real asset values such as infrastructure, property, asset finance and commodities. The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) has kept the official interest rate at a record low of 0.25% since March. It continues to keep the discount rate low, resulting in an increase in the asset prices of Macquarie’s holdings.
While investors may stay positive on the banking group’s medium-term prospects, Macquarie will not emerge completely scar free from COVID-19.
However, I think the banking group has made the right decision to focus on annuity style businesses and invest in the infrastructure and renewable energy sectors. As different countries recover from the pandemic-induced shutdown, Macquarie is well positioned to benefit from a more stable income stream while maintaining a healthy balance sheet.