If you hold bank shares, now might be a good time to pay attention. JP Morgan just put out a warning yesterday, and it is the type that seems likely to be representative of the whole industry. The bank warned of a “high teens” percentage fall in trading revenue. Most analysts have been expecting much more modest falls of around 3%.
FINSUM: Trading revenue falls tend to sweep across the big banks all at once as they are all subject to the same market conditions and underlying investor sentiment.
On the surface of it, this does not seem like a good time to buy bank stocks. Bank shares have done really well in the last month, but the Fed’s sudden and dramatic dovishness on rates would seem to be a catalyst for a move lower in bank shares. Countering that theory stands Mike Mayo from Wells Fargo, an equity analyst who thinks the picture of bank shares looks better. Many big bank stocks are trading at relatively cheap 10x p/e ratios, with yields of 3% or more. According to Mayo, “The negative sentiment has created an opportunity with uniquely attractive valuations”. Banks are also expected to do a large amount of buybacks in 2019, with some like Wells Fargo and Citi, expected to spend more than 100% of earnings on dividends and buybacks.
FINSUM: Banks do seem like a good value play. But at the same time, they have been trading for years more on a macro basis. Which side seems more realistic? Stick with the trend—bank stocks now have a weaker outlook because of the Fed.
If you are keeping an eye on financial stocks, this morning held a very bad omen. Citigroup was the first big Wall Street bank to report earnings, and the numbers weren’t pretty. In particular, the ever important area of fixed income trading revenue was disappointing, with total revenue dropping 21% to the lowest in seven years. The company missed its full-year profitability target by a wide margin.
FINSUM: The reason this is so worrying is that the fourth quarter was a very volatile period for markets. Such environments usually send trading revenue surging for banks.
Markets are having a very rough day. Both the S&P500 and the Dow are down almost 3%. Financials have been leading losses. The selloff appears to be centered on fears over the fragility of the US-China trade “truce”. Treasury bonds have been rallying, leading to selloffs in tech and banks. The Treasury curve started to invert yesterday, which also seems to have spooked investors.
FINSUM: What a difference a day makes! Just yesterday it seemed like stocks might be lined up for a nice end of year run. A day later, the trade trace has created more tension than before and the yield curve is starting to invert.
The biggest and most famous investor of them all just took a big position in US financials. In particular, Warren Buffett just made a large investment in JP Morgan to the tune of $4 bn. Buffett already holds a $23 bn position in Wells Fargo. Berkshire Hathaway has a history of making successful investments in banks, including in Bank of America. Buffett also boosted its holdings in BAC, Goldman Sachs, and US Bancorp.
FINSUM: Rising rates are good for banks. Recessions are not. The risk and reward is clear.