Bank investors await US stress test results for capital returns

The US Federal Reserve examines the health of the balance sheets of the biggest financial firms every year to ensure that they have enough capital to withstand a shock to the system. (Reuters)
Updated 21 June 2018
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Bank investors await US stress test results for capital returns

  • Banks will be able to unveil capital return plans for the coming year next week after the Fed issues its second set of results that determine how much of a capital buffer the banks need
  • Payout levels and market reactions will vary from bank to bank, according to Mike Mattioli, portfolio manager at Manulife Asset Management in Boston

NEW YORK: US investors expect banks and other financial institutions to announce large returns of capital to shareholders after the Federal Reserve publishes the first set of results from its annual “stress test” late Thursday.
Even so, gains in financial shares may be muted. Many of the 38 financial firms undergoing the test are expected to boost dividends and share buybacks due to higher profits on the back of tax cuts and rising net interest income.
Banks will be able to unveil capital return plans for the coming year next week after the Fed issues its second set of results that determine how much of a capital buffer the banks need.
The Fed examines the health of the balance sheets of the biggest financial firms every year to ensure that they have enough capital to withstand a shock to the system in the wake of the 2007-09 financial crisis.
“General headlines will be constructive with the vast majority of banks increasing their dividends and buying back more stock,” said Jason Goldberg, a bank analyst at Barclays.
Goldberg estimates that the 22 banks he covers should be able to announce returns of 103 percent of earnings compared with an estimated 86 percent for the year that ends in June.
Celebrations may be somewhat overshadowed however by loan growth data and a flattening yield curve, according to Sameer Samana, global equity and technical strategist at Wells Fargo Investment Institute in St. Louis.
“(Stress test results) could be a catalyst for a day or two but it’ll still come back to the main driver which is going to be the yield curve and loan growth, which has been OK but nothing to write home about,” said Samana.
Bank profits are boosted by a steepening yield curve, when the gap is widening between short-dated treasury yields and long-dated treasury yields. Banks profit from the difference between short-term rates, which determine their borrowing costs, and long-term rates, which affect how much they can charge for loans such as mortgages.
The spread between US Treasuries 2-year and 10-year yields has not been this narrow in a flattening process since 2005.
On June 29 last year, after banks released their capital plans following the stress test, the S&P 500 bank index ended the day 1.8 percent higher.
Last year’s approval marked the first time since the financial crisis the industry was given the go ahead to pay out as much as it reports in annual profits.
The largest US banks have notably underperformed their smaller, regional rivals so far in 2018.
The S&P 500 bank index was last showing a year-to-date decline of 2.4 percent after gaining 20 percent in 2017. In comparison the KBW Regional Bank index is up 8.4 percent for the year to date after falling 0.3 percent last year.
For this year’s returns, Keefe Bruyette & Woods analysts in research reports cut their payout assumptions for the median bank to 102 percent of earnings compared with a previous expectation for 120 percent as the stress test was tougher than he had originally expected.
KBW analysts said they were optimistic on payouts from banks including Citigroup Inc, Bank of America Corp, Wells Fargo & Co, BB&T Corp, Huntington Bancshares Inc, Comerica Inc, Citizens Financial Group Inc, Zions Bancorp and asset manager Northern Trust Corp.
The firm has cautious views on capital payouts on firms including Goldman Sachs Group Inc, Fifth Third Bancorp , KeyCorp, Regions Financial Corp, CIT Group Inc, SunTrust Banks Inc, Ally Financial Inc, American Express Co, Capital One Financial Corp, Discover Financial Services and M&T Bank Corp.
Bernstein analyst John McDonald in a report said he expects capital return dollars to grow but said that he does not think everybody will increase payout dollars as “firms are up against a harsher test and many have lower starting capital positions.”
Payout levels and market reactions will vary from bank to bank, according to Mike Mattioli, portfolio manager at Manulife Asset Management in Boston.
“I don’t think it’ll be a major catalyst. The thing people will be looking for is if anybody failed,” said Mattioli. “There’ll be some surprises on the upside or the downside but it shouldn’t move stocks in double-digit percentage changes.”


China-US trade talks ‘making a final sprint’ — state media

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping as U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, left, and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, right, look on before proceeding to their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China February 15, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 16 February 2019
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China-US trade talks ‘making a final sprint’ — state media

  • US duties on $200 billion in imports from China are set to rise to 25 percent from 10 percent if there is no deal by March 1 to address US demands

SHANGHAI: Chinese state media on Saturday expressed cautious optimism over trade talks between the United States and China, a day after President Xi Jinping said a week of discussions had produced “step-by-step” progress.
Xi made the comments at a meeting on Friday with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in Beijing, after a week of senior- and deputy-level talks.
The People’s Daily, the official paper of the ruling Communist Party, said in a commentary that Xi’s meeting with US negotiators had affirmed progress made in previous talks and “injected new impetus into the next stage of the development of Sino-US trade relations.”
The talks “have made important progress” for the next round of negotiations in Washington next week, the paper said in its domestic edition.
“It is hoped that the two sides will maintain the good momentum of the current consultations and strive to reach an agreement within the set time limit,” it said.
US duties on $200 billion in imports from China are set to rise to 25 percent from 10 percent if there is no deal by March 1 to address US demands that China curb forced technology transfers and better enforce intellectual property rights.
In its overseas edition, the People’s Daily said “zero-sum thinking and games where you lose and I win can only create losses for both. Only on a basis of mutual respect and equal treatment, through dialogue and consultation, can we find a solution acceptable to both sides.”
An English-language editorial in the Global Times, which is published by the People’s Daily, said news that China had consulted on the text of a memorandum of understanding “shows the two sides have made unprecedented progress.”
“The MOU and next week’s talks both show that the seemingly endless China-US trade negotiations, like a marathon, are making a final sprint,” it said.
The newspapers cautioned that any agreement would have to be in the interests of both the United States and China.
“There are still obstacles to be overcome, and no one should underestimate how daunting a task the two sides face trying to resolve all the differences that have long existed between them in one clean sweep,” the official English-language China Daily said in an editorial.