Big Banks Moving Beyond COVID-19

Citigroup (C), JPMorgan (JPM), Bank of America (BAC), and Goldman Sachs (GS) are all fresh off earnings with the highly disruptive COVID-19 backdrop still festering. The headline numbers were fantastic with beats on both the top and bottom line for Citigroup, JPMorgan, and Goldman Sachs, with Back of America missing on top-line revenue but beating on bottom-line profit. Big banks are evolving to the COVID-19 landscape domestically and abroad despite the possibility of widespread loan defaults, liquidity issues, ballooning credit card debt, and stressed mortgages. To exacerbate these COVID-19 impacts, interest rates, Federal Reserve actions, yield curve inversion, and liquidity are critical elements.

The business's customer side continues to be problematic as the pandemic's duration continues to drag on with no signs of slowing. A segment of the consumer base is faced with lost wages and the real possibility of not meeting their financial obligations, which will unquestionably have a negative impact on revenue and earnings. Capital preservation is now at the forefront, with share buybacks being halted and dividend payouts arrested. Large capital reserves have been put aside for anticipated financial challenges. The big banks have demonstrated their ability to evolve in the face of COVID-19 and present compelling value.

Post Financial Crisis - Big Banks Prepared

The big banks are far stronger and more prepared than they were during the 2008 Financial Crisis and have rigorous annual stress tests that maintain fiscal discipline. Banks are well capitalized and working with clients and consumers on payment deferrals if impacted by the pandemic. Continue reading "Big Banks Moving Beyond COVID-19"

Why It's Different This Time

The other day I completed a survey for my brokerage company, and one of the questions they asked was, "Is the current crisis worse than the 2008 financial crisis?" A couple of months ago, when our state and region were mostly in lockdown, I would have answered with a resounding and unhesitating, "Yes!"

Now I'm not so sure. Admittedly, I don't live in one of those states where the virus is now spiking, and things here are close to back to normal, so maybe my vantage point is too subjective. Nevertheless, I would have to say this crisis is far from as bad as the previous one, which may explain why the stock market has behaved the way it has, namely prices are off only a little from where they began the crisis, with only that short, sharp drop in February and March.

One reason, of course, is that the economy, as a whole, has rebounded strongly over the past couple of months as most of the country has reopened, at least to some degree, even as millions of people continue to work remotely. But the main reason is that that the lessons we learned from 2008 have been brought to bear in this crisis, namely that the government and the Federal Reserve have thrown much more money and resources at the problem than they did 12 years ago, which has mitigated the damage to a great degree.

As we've seen in the second-quarter earnings reports released so far by the big banks, the measures taken after 2008 to make sure they've built up enough capital to withstand another global crisis have paid off. Other than Wells Fargo (WFC) – which is still in the Fed penalty box, forbidden to grow assets – which reported a big loss, the other big banks reported flat Goldman Sachs (GS) or reduced JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Citigroup (C), and Bank of America (BAC) earnings compared to a year ago. It could have been a lot worse. Who would have thought they'd be able to pull that off three or four months ago? Let's give the Dodd-Frank Act and Fed capital requirements the props they deserve. Continue reading "Why It's Different This Time"

The Financial Cohort and COVID-19 Dynamics

COVID-19 ushered in the real possibility of widespread loan defaults, liquidity issues, ballooning credit card debt (as banks hold the liability), and stressed mortgages. To exacerbate these COVID-19 impacts, a delicate balance between interest rates, Federal Reserve actions, potential yield curve inversion, and liquidity must be reached. The customer side of the business continues to be worrisome as the duration of this crisis continues to drag on with no signs of slowing. A segment of the consumer base is faced with lost wages and the real possibility of not being able to meet their financial obligations (i.e., car payments, mortgage payments, etc.), which will unquestionably have a negative impact on revenue and earnings for banks. The financial cohort is in a difficult space as the broader economic backdrop continues to dictate whether these stocks can appreciate higher. The initial shock of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the market capitalizations of many large banks to be cut by ~50%. Some of the largest banking institutions such as Citi (C), Goldman Sachs (GS), JPMorgan (JPM), and Bank of America (BAC) were sold off in the most aggressive manner since the Financial Crisis a decade earlier. As COVID-19 continues to drag in both spread and duration, share buybacks have now been halted, and dividend payouts arrested. The stability of dividend payouts is now in question as uncertainty continues to cloud this sector. Moving forward, how durable are the major financial names at these depressed levels, are the banks investable in light of the COVID-19 backdrop?

Recent Federal Reserve Stress Tests

The Federal Reserve put new restrictions on the banking sector after the results from the annual stress test found that several banks could get too close to minimum capital levels in potential scenarios tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. The largest banking institutions will be required to suspend share buybacks and arrest dividend payments at their current level for Q3 of 2020. For the first time in the 10 year history of these stress tests, banks are now required to resubmit their payout plans again later this year. This move is indicative of the unique and unprecedented landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic. Continue reading "The Financial Cohort and COVID-19 Dynamics"