A loosely defined group of investment banks that dominate the industry. Those in the bulge bracket are Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Credit Suisse First Boston, Citigroup, and Lehman Brothers. Because there are no formal membership requirements, other banks may argue that they, too, are included.
The concept of bulge bracket came from the early part of the 1900s when a small group of investment banks coop- erated, or colluded, in the market for investment-grade debt offerings. In the 1960s and 1970s, Frederick B. Whittemore, a syndicate chief for Morgan Stanley in the 1960s and 1970s who was known on Wall Street as Father Fred, was incredibly influential in deciding who was included in the bulge bracket. Since he retired, no one person, or Morgan Stanley, has had the clout to determine who could declare themselves bulge bracket members and who should be excluded.
Bulge bracket described how the top firms’ names on tombstones bulged out from the smaller underwriters listed on them. Tombstones are the ads that appear in newspapers and magazines that announce deals. In addition to prestige, the underwriters at the top of a bond or stock offering made the most money from the deal. Before the 1970s, Morgan Stanley reinforced who was able to participate in deals because it was the dominant banker to the largest U.S. companies and didn’t let other banks participate as co-managers. As the 1970s drew to a close, the status quo began to change as companies demanded that other bankers participate on their deals and the banks own syndicate networks grew and the iron-clad relationships that determined who corporations hired diminished.