Earnings Season Preview: What Lies Ahead for Banking Stocks?

Financial institutions offer various consumer financial services, encompassing current and savings accounts, online payment options, credit and debit card facilities, residential and commercial lending options, insurance coverages, and investment portfolio management. Robust consumer spending and business investment activities propel demand for these financial services.

The third-quarter earnings season will kick off with big banks this week. As banking and finance sector giants JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), BlackRock, Inc. (BLK), WaFd, Inc (WAFD), and Unity Bancorp, Inc. (UNTY) prepare to release their results, we look at what analysts expect and what could shape their prospects.

Before delving into the financial prospects of these stocks, let’s discuss the factors influencing the industry’s trajectory.

The financial sector, particularly the banking segment, has demonstrated signs of stabilization following the turmoil induced by the collapse of the regional banks. The recovery coincides with the Federal Reserve's benchmark interest rate hikes to its peak in over two decades, aiming at alleviating inflationary pressures.

In September, record-breaking 334,000 nonfarm payroll additions surpassed economists' forecasts and brought increased potential for further rate increases. This comes as an overheated job market must be balanced by cooling inflation to achieve a desirable economic "soft landing." Higher interest rates could prove advantageous to banks, typically resulting in higher net interest income.

However, the market sentiments surrounding banking stocks have been negatively impacted by the downgrades and warnings issued by top rating agencies — Moody's and Fitch. These actions have gravely spotlighted investors' anxieties concerning the industry's stability and future. Similarly, S&P Global reduced its credit ratings and outlook for several U.S. regional banks, marked by their considerable commercial real estate (CRE) exposure.

This action could lead to increased borrowing costs for the banking sector, battling to recover from previous upheavals. Furthermore, with the Fed’s interest rate hikes raising borrowing costs, banks find themselves in a situation where they must offer higher interest on deposits to retain customers considering more lucrative alternatives.

In the forthcoming weeks, the financial sector, representing more than 40% of the S&P 500 members, is set to dominate market discourse, as it is slated to reveal third-quarter earnings. According to a Factset article, the sector is predicted to record the fourth-highest quarterly earnings growth rate at 8.7% among 11 sectors.

The banking industry is anticipated to report the third-highest annual earnings growth rate at 4%. Diversified Banks are expected to achieve an earnings growth of 7% on a sub-industry level, whereas Regional Banks may report a 15% decline in earnings. Within the Capital Markets industry, Asset Management and Custody Banks are projected to record earnings growth.

Let’s now comprehend some factors that could influence the featured stocks in the near term:

JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM)

JPM has proven its robustness and keen strategic foresight in the past few years, preparing tactically for a high-interest rate environment by stockpiling cash starting in 2021. Their fiscal prudency awarded them an advantageous position to acquire First Republic Bank under desirable terms following its seizure by federal regulators earlier this year.

The second quarter saw a surge in JPM's revenue and net income, boosted by higher interest rates and the well-timed acquisition of First Republic Bank. These successful endeavors are testaments to the bank's competent management and foresight.

Looking forward to the imminent week, JPM is expected to exceed expectations with its third-quarter earnings – a result of excellent performance across its primary business sectors.

According to data compiled by Bloomberg, the banking giant stands ready to record the fastest earnings-per-share growth compared to other major U.S. investment banks this reporting season.

The slump in trading revenues and investment banking fees was offset by the bank's net interest income increase of 27% during the quarter. According to Piper Sandler, despite persistently high interest rates, the bank might surpass its annual net interest income guidance.

For the fiscal third quarter ending September 2023, JPM’s revenue and EPS are expected to increase 20.2% and 24.8% year-over-year to $39.31 billion and $3.89, respectively.

Beyond these impressive forecasts, it is noteworthy that JPM surpassed consensus revenue and EPS estimates in each of the trailing four quarters.

BlackRock, Inc. (BLK)

BLK is recognized globally as a top-tier provider of investment, advisory, and risk management solutions, risks facing adversity due to escalating interest rates. An upward trajectory in interest rates stands to diminish the demand for bonds and fixed-income securities, which serve as substantial income generators for BLK.

As interest rates climb, bond prices take a downturn, prompting investors to explore other asset classes or seek out richer yields in alternative locations. This scenario can potentially depress the value of BLK’s assets under management (AUM) and any fees garnered from managing these assets.

Further concerning is that BLK leans heavily on debt to fuel its operations and fund acquisitions. As of June 30, 2023, the firm registered $7.96 billion in total long-term borrowings. For the six months that ended June 30, 2023, BLK paid approximately $89 million in interest on long-term notes.

The firm's EPS is projected to take an 11.5% year-over-year plunge to $8.45 for the fiscal third quarter ending September 2023 as it grapples with decelerating institutional flows and the impacts of foreign-currency headwinds.

On a brighter note, the company’s revenue for the same quarter is forecasted to increase 5.6% year-over-year to $4.55 billion. The company topped consensus EPS estimates in the trailing four quarters and consensus revenue estimates in three of the trailing four quarters.

WaFd, Inc (WAFD)

Regional bank WAFD offers various financial products and services, encompassing current and savings accounts, mortgages, loans, and investments.

A potential rise in interest rates could boost the bank’s net interest income, as evidenced by its third-quarter net interest income results that reached $168.70 million, marking an 11.2% year-on-year increase.

Over the past three years, the bank has achieved impressive growth, with EPS escalating by 18.3% CAGR. If WAFD maintains this trajectory, shareholders should be thoroughly satisfied.

Furthermore, over the past three years, the company's revenue and net interest income expanded at CAGRs of 9% and 13.8%, respectively, highlighting the solid caliber of WAFD’s growth.

One point of concern lies in the bank's substantial reliance on debt. For the last reported quarter that ended June 30, 2023, WAFD reported borrowings of $3.60 billion at an interest rate of 3.76%.

Moreover, for the fiscal fourth quarter ending September 2023, WAFD’s revenue is anticipated to decline 4.3% year-on-year to $180 million, while EPS is expected to decline 16.2% year-over-year to $0.90.

Unity Bancorp, Inc. (UNTY)

UNTY, a community-oriented bank in Clinton, New Jersey, is well-positioned to capitalize on its robust fundamentals, solid loan and deposit balances, and diverse fee-income sources.

It is a conservatively managed organization that has constantly been acknowledged as a top-tier community bank. Although not exempt from the challenges faced by the broader banking sector, UNTY seems well-prepared to confront these difficulties while retaining the confidence and favor of the communities it serves.

The bank's revenue and net interest income expanded at CAGRs of 14.8% and 17%, respectively, over the past three years, justifying its strong growth trajectory.

UNTY's main earnings source, net interest income, decreased marginally sequentially by $0.4 million to $23.5 million. The decline was due to the cost of interest-bearing liabilities rising faster than the yield of interest-earning assets, causing a slight decrease in net interest margin to 4.04%.

Mixed analyst estimates about the company’s potential are evident as UNTY’s EPS is expected to decline 4.3% year-on-year to $0.89, while its revenue is expected to increase 1.2% year-over-year to $25.15 million for the fiscal third quarter ending September 2023. Moreover, the stock has topped the consensus EPS and revenue estimates in three of the trailing four quarters.

Furthermore, UNTY experiences rapid growth and has strategically chosen to pay out a minimal fraction of its earnings as dividends to shareholders, opting instead to reinvest back into the business. This approach promises to generate significant value for investors over time. Over the past three and five years, UNTY's EPS has grown at CAGRs of 22.4% and 19.2%, while dividend payouts grew at 13.7% and 12.6% over the same periods.