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Proprietary trading: Volcker Rule starts to shake out prop trading

JPMorgan to shut its commodities prop desk; Potential impact on trading profits

With 29,000 employees in the investment bank, JPMorgan’s decision to shut down a division staffed by just 20 would not normally cause a stir. That business, however, is a commodities proprietary business, making JPMorgan the first large bank to show signs of submitting to the Volcker Rule.

It’s a tentative move towards compliance with the rule, which would stop banks owning proprietary trading desks. No one seems to know whether the division will be closed down in three months or three years. Oral Dawe, the Asia-Pacific chief executive of the division, has just announced his retirement but Ray Eyles has been promoted to take over for now, so one imagines the shutdown is not imminent.

Furthermore, there seems to be no decision made on JPMorgan’s other proprietary trading businesses.

It seems that around 2% of total earnings or profits is the new rule of thumb that most large banks have settled on to designate as the contribution of their proprietary trading activities.

Goldman Sachs was rumoured in August to be spinning off its proprietary trading desk, although a source says no decision has been made yet. But something will have to give. "The Dodd-Frank Act is 2,000 pages, mostly of concepts, but legislators have left much less to the discretion of rule-makers on this issue," says one source.

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