Behind Wells Fargo's Crypto Report

As you know, if you've been visiting here over the past year, we've had a ton of fun looking at how some of the biggest financial powerhouses are approaching cryptocurrency and blockchain investing.

Most recently, investment banking behemoth Goldman Sachs said that Bitcoin (BTC) was likely headed to $100K and above in 2022. When I used a similar calculus to what they did, my numbers were even higher.

We also looked at the bombshell crypto report from Bank of America that said in no uncertain terms that crypto was "too large to ignore." And we also did a deep dive into what consultancy giant Deloitte found when it asked businesses how they felt about the crypto and blockchain space. And the bottom line from that report was that if you're in business and you ignore crypto, you do so at your own peril.

Now, banking giant Wells Fargo has thrown their hat in the ring with what they think about the future of cryptocurrency for investors. And I think you'll be as surprised as I was when I looked under the hood of the report.

So, let's get down to business! Continue reading "Behind Wells Fargo's Crypto Report"

Did The Fed Just Send A Message?

In case you missed it, last Friday, the Federal Reserve agreed to let a year-long suspension of capital requirements for big banks that allowed them to exclude Treasury securities and deposits held at the Fed from their supplementary leverage ratio expire at the end of the month.

While the subject of bank capital ratios usually puts some people to sleep, the Fed decision could have very real consequences for the financial markets and the nascent economic rebound at large. It also seems to diverge from the Fed’s own stated and oft-repeated monetary policies.

Then again, the Fed may have just sent a subtle message that its low-rate stance is about to change.

As the New York Times explained, the intention of relaxing the banks’ capital requirements last year at the outset of the pandemic-induced economic lockdown “was to make it easier for financial institutions to absorb government bonds and reserves and still continue lending. Otherwise, banks might have stopped such activities to avoid increasing their assets and hitting the leverage cap, which would mean raising capital. But it also lowered bank capital requirements, which drew criticism.”

At a practical level, Friday’s decision may add further fuel to the fire that is driving up bond yields by discouraging banks from buying Treasury securities, which would seem to run counter to the Fed’s low-interest-rate policy. The Fed, of course, is buying trillions of dollars of Treasury and mortgage-backed securities, which it has stated it has no intention of stopping. Yet, it saw fit to make a move that could have the effect of driving the banks – also big buyers of government securities – out of the market. So why did the Fed do this? Continue reading "Did The Fed Just Send A Message?"

The Conundrum Continues

Just how bad are things for the U.S. economy anyway? If you just finished reading the financial news headlines the past few days, you can't be blamed for being just a little confused.

From the government side, you would swear that the sky is falling. Not only is the COVID-19-fueled financial crisis ongoing, but it might also be getting even worse. Last week, we heard it from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and this week from his predecessor, Janet Yellen, President Biden's nominee for Treasury Secretary.

"The economy is far from our goals" of full employment and sustained 2% inflation, Powell said at a webcast sponsored by Princeton University. Therefore, he said, "Now is not the time to be talking about exit" from easy money policies. "When the time comes to raise interest rates, we will certainly do that," he said. "And that time, by the way, is no time soon."

Yellen painted an even bleaker picture. "Economists don't always agree, but I think there is a consensus now: Without further action, we risk a longer, more painful recession now—and long-term scarring of the economy later," she said in prepared remarks for her confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee.

While not dismissing the concern that "further action" would add to the already humungous federal debt burden – now at $21.6 trillion and expected to grow even more under Biden – Yellen was more worried about the possible consequences of not spending enough. Continue reading "The Conundrum Continues"

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"