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.”


Oil markets jittery over lower demand forecasts

Updated 18 November 2018
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Oil markets jittery over lower demand forecasts

RIYADH: Oil prices continued to nosedive last week over demand concerns amid an outlook of a slowing global economy. The strong US dollar weighed on both oil prices and the global demand outlook. Currencies weakened against the dollar, eroding their purchasing power.
Brent was down to $66.76 per barrel and WTI dropped to $56.46 per barrel by Friday. The former came close to its one-year low as both the International Energy Agency (IEA) and OPEC released monthly reports that articulated a darkening demand outlook in the short term. This increased fears of an oil demand slowdown. Market fundamentals also suggest that price volatility is likely to remain high in the near-term, although the oil market reached a balance in early October.
OPEC’s Monthly Oil Market Report (MOMR) arrived with bearish sentiments, revising downward its oil-demand forecast for this year and next, for the fourth month in a row. It forecast that global oil demand will rise by 1.29 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2019, 70,000 less than what OPEC expected last month. The MOMR also forecast increasing non-OPEC supply growth for 2019, with higher volumes outpacing the annual growth in world oil demand, leading to an excess in supply. The report was welcomed with open arms by the IEA, which had been at least in part responsible for driving sentiment toward a bear market. Surprisingly, OPEC warned that oil demand is falling faster than expected. Necessary action is a must.
Saudi Arabia is not sitting idly by while oil markets look as if they are heading toward instability. Markets were expecting severe US sanctions on Iran, which could have resulted in supply shortages once Iran’s crude exports went to zero. The unexpected introduction of waivers to allow eight countries to continue importing Iranian oil, was however an eye-opener. Now, as the world’s only swing producer, Saudi Arabia will have to take other measures to balance oil markets and drain excess oil from global stockpiles.
Despite what some analysts are claiming, there is currently no strategy to send less oil to the US to help reduce US stockpiles. Yes, some have claimed that Saudi crude shipments to the US are at about 600,000 barrels per day this month, which is a little more than half of what was being shipped in the summer months. But the reasons for this are related to seasonally low demand, the surge in US inventories and refineries heading into their winter maintenance season. Remember that November crude oil shipments were allocated to the US refiners last month before the US waivers on the Iranian sanctions were revealed. Also, keep in mind that Saudi Arabia owns the largest refinery in the US, which has a refining capacity that exceeds 600,000 bpd.

Lurking on the horizon is the massive US budget deficit and increasing rumblings that the US economic boom is over. 

It must be noted that there is a degree of financial manipulation underway in the oil futures markets. At the moment, there are few places where quick profits can be made, so some investors moved from stocks to commodities. Now, there are downward pressures on oil prices as some commodities market traders went long on oil futures, thinking that crude prices would rise. Then these same traders shorted natural gas, assuming that with a warmer winter, prices of that fuel would fall. Unfortunately for the traders, Trump’s sanction waivers on Iranian crude oil exports and cold weather on the US East Coast, caused exactly the reverse to take place. Oil prices fell and natural gas prices rose. Traders were therefore forced to sell their assets to cover margins, pushing oil prices lower. It is expected that some hedge funds and investment funds will also be moving away from going long on oil futures and this will cause further selling.
Lurking on the horizon is the massive US budget deficit and increasing rumbling that the US economic boom is over. The US federal budget deficit rose 17 percent in the 2018 fiscal year. It is now larger than in any year since 2012. Federal spending is up and amidst US President Donald Trump’s tax cuts, and federal revenue is not keeping pace. To make matters worse, the strong US economy and interest rate hikes by the US Federal Reserve have boosted the dollar.
A strong dollar makes commodities such as crude oil more expensive in international markets and reduces demand. Trump wants oil to be priced as low as possible to help bolster the US economy, which is clearly under strain, and to facilitate sales of crude abroad. But with a looming global oil shortage just a few years away due to a lack of upstream investment, it is incumbent on global oil producers to consider the long term in their output decisions.

* Faisal Mrza is an energy and oil market adviser. He was formerly with OPEC and Saudi Aramco. Reach him on Twitter: @faisalmrza