As the Dow Falls, Wall Street Should Root for a Correction

After four consecutive closing record highs, the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) gave in and fell more than 100 points on Wednesday. A gloomier global economic forecast on growth from the World Bank was the nominal excuse for a long-awaited pullback for the index. Yet even though Wall Street giants Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS  ) and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM  ) both fell today, their respective businesses might actually benefit from a sustained downturn for the Dow Jones Industrials -- as long as that fall could finally pull bargain-seeking investors back into the market after years on the sidelines and also support trading operations more broadly.

JPMorgan's 1.1% drop came amid speculation that the fallout from the company's recent trouble in its fixed-income and equity trading unit could lead to further consequences, including job cuts. In May, the bank said the quiet market environment was reducing trading activity, and it warned of substantial drops in trading-related revenue as a result. JPMorgan CFO Marianne Lake, who has been on the forefront of revealing potential trouble spots for the bank in the past, expects the problems are cyclical rather than permanent. But even short-term trouble could force JPMorgan Chase to reduce the number of employees it has working in the area and cut pay for those workers it retains.

Investment banking giant Goldman Sachs lost a more moderate 0.6% by the end of Wednesday trading. Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein warned investors today about the current calm state of the markets, reminding everyone that just when times seem most secure, systemic shocks can emerge and bring markets back to a more typical state of disequilibrium. Goldman pointed to one particular sore point for its business: the bond market, with the Federal Reserve's intervention on the long end of the yield curve finally winding down after years of stimulus efforts. Blankfein's pronouncement reminds us that when rates finally rise, we'll finally discover who has been taking on the heightened risk that low-cost leverage brings. The result could be a much wider swing downward than the Dow and other markets would otherwise have experienced, especially among those companies that took the most advantage of low rates and relied the most on those rates lasting longer than many originally expected.

For both companies, a return to more normal conditions would make it harder to earn profits simply by owning the stock market and holding on. As a result, if trading activity picked back up, then the investment banking businesses of Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase could start contributing more toward their overall profits again. Whether today's pullback in the Dow Jones Industrials represents the beginning of such a reversal or just another in a long series of head fakes isn't clear, but as long as quiet conditions last, JPMorgan and Goldman will have a tough road ahead.

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