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Bank stocks sink as zero rates, buyback suspensions act as a double whammy to earnings

Financial sector suffers worst day in 11 years as COVID-19 outbreak raises risk of recession

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By Tomi Kilgore, MarketWatch


Getty Images
CHARLOTTE, NC - JUNE 30: A flag flies outside the Bank of America Corporate Center June 30, 2005 in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina. Bank of America, which has its corporate headquarters in Charlotte, announced it is buying MBNA Corp. in a deal worth $35 billion. (Photo by Davis Turner/Getty Images)

The financial sector took a deep dive Monday, as the Federal Reserve cut interest rates on Sunday to around 0%, at the same time the biggest banks announced a suspension of buybacks, which served as a one-two punch for the group’s earnings outlook.

The growing risk of a global recession resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic leading to weaker demand and credit metrics on loans is adding to the negative view for the sector.

“We have changed the outlook on the U.S. banking system to ‘negative’ from ‘stable’ to reflect the growing strain on banks’ operating environment and asset risk from the ongoing coronavirus’ disruption of economic and business activity,” said Moody’s Senior Vice President Joseph Pucella.

The SPDR Financial Select Sector exchange-traded fund /zigman2/quotes/209660484/composite XLF -0.20%  plummeted 13.7% to a 3 1/2-year low of $19.89, with all 66 equity components trading lower. That was the biggest one-day percentage drop since it fell 16.5% on Jan. 20, 2009, in the midst of the financial crisis.

The financial-focused sector tracker XLF’s plunge came as the S&P 500 index tumbled 12.0%, which was the benchmark index’s worst day since it plummeted 20.5% on Oct. 19, 1987, also known as Black Monday. The XLF has plunged 36.2% over the past month, while the S&P 500 /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX -1.12% has lost 29.4%. See Market Snapshot.

Don’t miss : Fed, not waiting until meeting, slashes rates to zero and restarts QE.

Also read : Goldman says U.S. growth will shrink 5% next quarter and here’s how low stocks could go.

Among the XLF’s most-active components on Monday, shares of Bank of America Corp. /zigman2/quotes/200894270/composite BAC -0.55%  slid 15.4%, Wells Fargo & Co. /zigman2/quotes/203790192/composite WFC +0.08%  sank 14.2%, JPMorgan Chase & Co. /zigman2/quotes/205971034/composite JPM -0.21%  shed 14.2%, and Citigroup Inc. /zigman2/quotes/207741460/composite C -1.47%  suffered a 19.3% loss.

/zigman2/quotes/209660484/composite XLF 24.68, -0.05, -0.20%

Elsewhere, Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s stock /zigman2/quotes/209237603/composite GS +0.02%  dropped 12.7%. The XLF’s worst performer was Discover Financial Services /zigman2/quotes/208747867/composite DFS -0.86%  , which plunged 26.8%. The SPDR S&P Bank ETF /zigman2/quotes/201006419/composite KBE -0.93%  was down 12.9%, with 89 of 90 components losing ground and the SPDR S&P Regional Banking ETF /zigman2/quotes/200108291/composite KRE -0.74%  declined 13.7% with 120 of 122 components falling.

The selloff comes after the Federal Reserve announced on Sunday that it was cutting its target of the benchmark federal-funds rate by a full percentage point, to a range o 0% to 0.25%. That cut comes less than two weeks after the Fed cut rates by 50 basis points.

Analyst David Long at Raymond James said the “immediate implication” of the rate cut is to lower the lending rate on variable-rate loans, particularly commercial and industrial (C&I) loans, which are indexed to London interbank offered rates (Libor) and the Prime rate. Long said other areas to be hurt by the rate cuts include returns on short-term assets, such as money-market and other cash-like securities, and certain commercial real estate, consumer and specialty-finance loans.

“This rate cut will be negative to nearly all bank [earnings per share], particularly the speed for which rates contracted over the last few weeks,” Long wrote in a note to clients. “Both the Street forecasts and our estimates do not bake in such a scenario.”

Following the Fed rate cut, the Financial Services Forum, which represents eight of the nation’s largest banks, said its member institutions will suspend share repurchases through the second quarter of 2020, as they look to use available capital to support the economy, small businesses and individuals impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

J.P. Morgan’s Vivek Juneja said he estimates the suspension of buybacks to lower EPS for the group by an average of 1.1% in 2020, and by an average of 1.6% in 2021.

Individually, he said 2020 earnings for BofA would be reduced by 1.5%, for Citi would be lowered by 1.4% and for Wells Fargo would be shaved by 1.1%.

Those reductions are on top of the negative 6% to 19% impact on EPS from zero rates.

What could also hurt earnings, Juneja said, is that loan growth is running below expectations in the first quarter, while deposit liability growth has surged.

For Oppenheimer’s Chris Kotowski, “share buybacks have been a key component of our investment case, and the complete suspension is an obvious negative.” He added, however, that as the banks he follows are likely to remain profitable, they’ll likely grow capital that can be used for buyback at some later date.

If there is a positive, Raymond James’s Long said that the lower deposit rates, particularly for time deposits will help offset the lower returns from loans, while Moody’s Pucella said the Fed’s bond-buying program announced Sunday should help improve the banks’ already strong liquidity.

/zigman2/quotes/209660484/composite
US : U.S.: NYSE Arca
$ 24.68
-0.05 -0.20%
Volume: 61.71M
Sept. 18, 2020 4:00p
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/zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime
US : S&P US
3,319.47
-37.54 -1.12%
Volume: 4.09B
Sept. 18, 2020 5:15p
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/zigman2/quotes/200894270/composite
US : U.S.: NYSE
$ 25.21
-0.14 -0.55%
Volume: 94.06M
Sept. 18, 2020 4:00p
P/E Ratio
12.11
Dividend Yield
2.86%
Market Cap
$218.42 billion
Rev. per Employee
$543,289
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/zigman2/quotes/203790192/composite
US : U.S.: NYSE
$ 25.13
+0.02 +0.08%
Volume: 115.15M
Sept. 18, 2020 4:03p
P/E Ratio
28.72
Dividend Yield
1.59%
Market Cap
$103.54 billion
Rev. per Employee
$392,114
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/zigman2/quotes/205971034/composite
US : U.S.: NYSE
$ 98.35
-0.21 -0.21%
Volume: 20.12M
Sept. 18, 2020 4:00p
P/E Ratio
13.25
Dividend Yield
3.66%
Market Cap
$299.73 billion
Rev. per Employee
$497,647
loading...
/zigman2/quotes/207741460/composite
US : U.S.: NYSE
$ 44.86
-0.67 -1.47%
Volume: 33.20M
Sept. 18, 2020 4:02p
P/E Ratio
7.78
Dividend Yield
4.55%
Market Cap
$93.39 billion
Rev. per Employee
$479,167
loading...
/zigman2/quotes/209237603/composite
US : U.S.: NYSE
$ 194.86
+0.03 +0.02%
Volume: 9.07M
Sept. 18, 2020 4:00p
P/E Ratio
14.82
Dividend Yield
2.57%
Market Cap
$67.05 billion
Rev. per Employee
$1.34M
loading...
/zigman2/quotes/208747867/composite
US : U.S.: NYSE
$ 59.03
-0.51 -0.86%
Volume: 4.61M
Sept. 18, 2020 4:00p
P/E Ratio
18.70
Dividend Yield
2.98%
Market Cap
$18.09 billion
Rev. per Employee
$773,916
loading...
/zigman2/quotes/201006419/composite
US : U.S.: NYSE Arca
$ 31.04
-0.29 -0.93%
Volume: 1.58M
Sept. 18, 2020 4:00p
loading...
/zigman2/quotes/200108291/composite
US : U.S.: NYSE Arca
$ 37.60
-0.28 -0.74%
Volume: 8.62M
Sept. 18, 2020 4:00p
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Tomi Kilgore is MarketWatch's deputy investing and corporate news editor and is based in New York. You can follow him on Twitter @TomiKilgore.

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