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May 15, 2020, 6:39 a.m. EDT

Wells Fargo leads list of bank stocks at risk for dividend cuts

Analysts at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods say U.S. banks’ dividends are ‘broadly safe,’ but pointed out 21 ‘potential dividend-cut candidates’

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By Philip van Doorn, MarketWatch


Bloomberg
A temporarily closed Wells Fargo branch in New York.

A recession is a time for dividend cuts, and even though most U.S. banks are in much better shape than they were at the start of the 2008 financial crisis, investors are showing no confidence in the industry.

Here’s a chart comparing total returns (with dividends reinvested) of the KBW Bank Index /zigman2/quotes/210598427/realtime BKX +1.09% to the S&P 500 Index /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +0.42%  this year through May 13:


FactSet

Investors are looking ahead to a difficult credit cycle. The Dodd-Frank legislation in 2010 raised banks’ capital requirements and strengthened regulatory oversight. There is no talk of bank bailouts this time around.

Then again, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday that a survey by the central bank found that 40% of people in households earning less than $40,000 a year that were counted on payrolls in February had lost their jobs in March.

That points not only to loan forbearances and credit losses, but also to continued pain for countless businesses of all sizes that owe money to the banks.

So it is not surprising that some banks have already reduced their dividends to shore up cash.

Analysts at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, led by Christopher McGratty, on Wednesday listed 21 banks they say are “potential dividend cut candidates,” even though they think dividends are “‘broadly safe’ for 90% of the banks, a sharp contrast relative to the financial crisis” of 2008.

The largest potential candidate listed for a dividend cut is Wells Fargo & Co. /zigman2/quotes/203790192/composite WFC +2.18% , the only “universal bank” on the list. Wells Fargo’s quarterly dividend is 51 cents a share, for a yield of 9.10%, based on the stock’s closing price of $22.42 on May 13. That high yield reflects investors’ worry over a possible dividend cut. In comparison, the S&P 500’s weighted dividend yield is 2.04%, according to FactSet. The yield on 30-year U.S. Treasury bonds /zigman2/quotes/211347052/realtime BX:TMUBMUSD30Y -1.07%  is 1.29%.

Here’s KBW’s entire list of 21 banks that are potential candidates for dividend cuts, sorted by total assets:

Bank Ticker Headquarters Total assets ($ billions) - March 31, 2020 Dividend yield - current Dividend payout ratio - trailing Dividend payout ratio - KBW's estimate for 2020 Total return - 2020 through May 13
Wells Fargo & Co. /zigman2/quotes/203790192/composite WFC San Francisco $1,981.3 9.05% 72% 222% -57%
Citizens Financial Group Inc. /zigman2/quotes/205410375/composite CFG Providence, R.I. $176.7 7.76% 53% 89% -51%
KeyCorp /zigman2/quotes/202852742/composite KEY Cleveland $156.2 7.66% 54% 79% -52%
Huntington Bancshares Inc. /zigman2/quotes/209314988/composite HBAN Columbus, Ohio $113.9 8.12% 61% 88% -50%
Comerica Inc. /zigman2/quotes/207245846/composite CMA Dallas $76.3 9.31% 51% 89% -58%
CIT Group Inc. /zigman2/quotes/200594362/composite CIT New York $58.9 10.50% N/A N/A -70%
Synovus Financial Corp. /zigman2/quotes/209053698/composite SNV Columbus, Ga. $50.6 8.47% 45% 147% -59%
Umpqua Holdings Corp. /zigman2/quotes/203440669/composite UMPQ Portland, Ore. $27.5 8.91% N/A 263% -46%
First Hawaiian Inc. /zigman2/quotes/209814536/composite FHB Honolulu $20.8 7.33% 54% 124% -50%
Hope Bancorp Inc. /zigman2/quotes/208312240/composite HOPE Los Angeles $16.0 6.92% 46% 80% -44%
First Financial Bancorp. /zigman2/quotes/206363023/composite FFBC Cincinnati $15.1 7.83% 50% 84% -53%
Berkshire Hills Bancorp Inc. /zigman2/quotes/206996065/composite BHLB Boston $13.2 9.63% 91% 204% -69%
Northwest Bancshares Inc. /zigman2/quotes/205614117/composite NWBI Warren, Pa. $10.7 8.32% 87% 123% -43%
Provident Financial Services Inc. /zigman2/quotes/207499634/composite PFS Jersey City, N.J. $10.1 7.92% 62% 81% -52%
Boston Private Financial Holdings Inc. Boston $8.7 7.63% 66% 155% -46%
Flushing Financial Corp. /zigman2/quotes/205378453/composite FFIC New York $7.2 8.42% 74% 147% -53%
Midland States Bancorp Inc. /zigman2/quotes/205194419/composite MSBI Effingham, Ill. $6.2 7.89% 61% 87% -53%
Washington Trust Bancorp Inc. /zigman2/quotes/203237114/composite WASH Westerly, R.I. $5.6 7.18% 56% 88% -46%
Financial Institutions Inc. /zigman2/quotes/201343559/composite FISI Warsaw, N.Y. $4.5 7.27% 45% 78% -55%
Heritage Commerce Corp. /zigman2/quotes/208278613/composite HTBK San Jose, Calif. $4.1 7.60% 81% 124% -45%
BCB Bancorp Inc. /zigman2/quotes/209238930/composite BCBP Bayonne, N.J. $2.9 6.41% 56% 93% -35%
Sources: KBW, FactSet

Scroll the table to see all of the data.

The trailing dividend payout ratio was calculated by dividing the current annual dividend rate per share by earnings per share for the past four quarters. A payout ratio of “N/A” means the current annual dividend rate exceeds the past four quarters’ EPS, or in the case of the forward KBW estimates, that the current annual dividend rate will exceed 2020 EPS.

To be sure, the KBW analysts wrote that their analysis “suggests that the risk of a potential cut is more priced in” for Wells Fargo, along with CIT Group Inc. /zigman2/quotes/200594362/composite CIT +0.74% , Comerica Inc. /zigman2/quotes/207245846/composite CMA +1.45% , Berkshire Hills Bancorp /zigman2/quotes/206996065/composite BHLB +0.18%  and Synovus Financial Corp. /zigman2/quotes/209053698/composite SNV +0.68% .

The analysts wrote that “Wells Fargo’s issues appear self-isolated,” as the bank continues to operate under strict regulatory supervision in the wake of several customer-service scandals. KBW analyst Brian Kleinhanzl wrote in a separate report May 13 that “WFC’s high payout ratio is the primary driver of investor fear that a dividend cut could happen,” and cited an estimated dividend payout of 221% for 2020, compared with KBW’s estimates of a median payout ratio of 59% for universal banks covered by the firm.

KBW also listed six small to mid-sized banks that have reduced their dividends recently:

Cadence Bancorp /zigman2/quotes/201886944/composite CADE +0.84% , Great Western Bancorp /zigman2/quotes/205200854/composite GWB +1.88% , Hanmi Finanial Corp. /zigman2/quotes/206308765/composite HAFC -0.11% , PacWest Bancorp /zigman2/quotes/205622697/composite PACW -0.37% , RBB Bancorp /zigman2/quotes/203229620/composite RBB +2.07%  and 1st Source Corp. /zigman2/quotes/207923419/composite SRCE +1.36% .

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Philip van Doorn covers various investment and industry topics. He has previously worked as a senior analyst at TheStreet.com. He also has experience in community banking and as a credit analyst at the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York.

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