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"

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"

Fed Chairman Powell Resuscitates Financial Cohort

The market-wide sell-off in the fourth quarter of 2018 was largely induced by the Federal Reserve and its alleged commitment to sequential interest rate increases into 2019. This was largely viewed as reckless and misguided while turning a blind eye to broader economic data-driven decision making about further interest rate hikes. The stock indices responded to the sequential interest rate hike stance with overwhelming negative sentiment, logging double-digit declines across the broader markets. Many market observers were questioning the Federal Reserve’s aggressive stance as companies issued weakness in ancillary economic metrics (slowing global growth, strong U.S. dollar, trade war, government shutdown, weak housing numbers, retail weakness, auto sluggishness, and oil decline) as an indication that cracks in the economic cycle were materializing. The strong labor market and record low unemployment served as a basis to rationalize increasing rates to tame inflation however these aforementioned economic headwinds appeared to cause the Federal Reserve to pivot in its aggressive stance. As Chairman Jerome Powell began to issue a softer stance on future interest rate hikes, January saw very healthy stock market gains after being decimated for months prior. On January 30th, Jerome Powell issued language that the markets were craving to levitate higher as he left interest rates unchanged and exercised caution and patience as a path forward. Using data-driven decision making as a path forward was cheered by market participants as the broader indices popped for healthy gains on top of the already robust gains throughout January.

Financial Cohort Squeezed

The financial cohort was stuck in a precarious situation in the latter half of 2018. On the one hand, a rising interest rate environment would provide boosts to bottom line revenue as a function of the increased rates on their deposit base. Banks had domestic and global economic expansion tailwinds at their back while posting accelerating revenue growth, increasing dividend payouts, engaging in a record number of share buybacks, benefiting from tax reform and deregulation. Augmenting this positive backdrop was a record number of IPOs, a record number of global merger and acquisitions along with consulting fees regarding mergers and acquisitions and trading around market volatility. All of these elements ostensibly provided an ideal confluence that boded well for the financial sector. JP Morgan (JPM), Citi (C), Wells Fargo (WFC), Goldman Sachs (GS) and Bank of America (BAC) seemed to be poised to continue to benefit from the favorable economic backdrop. Despite all these elements, 2018 was terrible for the financials which performed horribly, especially during the fourth quarter as rapid rate hikes were in the cards. Continue reading "Fed Chairman Powell Resuscitates Financial Cohort"