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Avoid Pure Plays in Banking For Now

This week, the bulk of the firms in the financial sector are wrapping up the reporting of their earnings for the first quarter. And whether it be to your dismay, surprise or pleasure, the numbers they are reporting are not as bad as what had been anticipated.

Most of the big banks reported last week, and for the most part, they beat analysts’ estimates. So far this week, other firms in the sector are also beating analysts’ estimates. Cheers over these beats are mitigated, however, because analysts’ estimates have been continuously lowered since the beginning of the year. The reason stems from analysts taking into account the myriad of pressures financial firms are enduring in the current business environment.

As the remaining firms in the sector report Q1 2016 earnings this week, investors are trying to make heads or tails of how to play the market moving forward. Considering what earnings are indicating so far, it may be best to avoid pure plays and instead focus on banks with diversified lines of business.

 

 · What’s nagging the financial sector

 

Firms in the financial sector have been plagued by a slew of factors that affect their top and bottom lines. These factors include lower interest rates and tighter banking regulations. The big banks’ situations have been aggravated by slumping oil prices that negatively affect the value of the loans they made to energy companies. This has especially been the case for banks that made loans to companies in the oil and gas sector. Many of these companies have been unable to make their loan payments because they took huge losses when oil prices declined.

To mitigate these loan losses, some banks have increased loss provisions on these loans. These banks include Citigroup (NYSE: C), JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM) and Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC).

I brought you a story last week about these particular big banks, among others, reporting their earnings, and noted that another challenge they have faced relates to federal regulations. Banks are still dealing with the effects of the new rules that went into governing derivatives. The rules went into effect in 2010 due to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Specifically, the act requires banks to post billions of dollars of collateral for certain derivatives trades.

Another challenge coming out of Dodd-Frank relates to living wills. As JPMorgan rolled out its better than expected earnings last week, federal regulators announced it being one of five major banks that it still has concerns about when it comes to the plans.

Specifically, Dodd-Frank requires that bank holding companies with total consolidated assets of $50 billion or more periodically submit resolution plans to the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Each of these living will plans must describe the company’s strategy for “rapid and orderly resolution in the event of material financial distress or failure of the company, and include both public and confidential sections.” Certain nonbank financial companies designated for supervision by the Federal Reserve must also have living wills in place.

The other banks that were dinged over their living wills were Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Bank of New York Mellon Corp. and State Street Corp. All of these banks have until Oct. 1 to submit revised living wills. If their revisions don’t pass muster, the banks could be subject to higher capital requirements.

 

 · Diversity is key

 

One of the learning lessons to come from the performance of banks during the first quarter relates to which of them have the best chances to continue to improve their earnings. This brings me to my point about pure plays.

As you know, pure plays relate to companies that typically focus on particular products and services. This allows them to carve out most of the market share. On that same note, pure plays can present higher risks because they don’t offer or focus on offering diversified products and services. Examples of pure plays in the financial sector include Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS).

The weaknesses of being a pure play company versus being a diversified company were seen clearly in the Q1 2016 earnings of banks. JPMorgan and Bank of America, which offer more diversified products than do pure plays, saw their net incomes rise compared to the numbers posted a year ago for the same period.

For example, JPMorgan and Bank of America have large consumer divisions and neither of them relies solely on investment banking. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, on the other hand, saw their net incomes fall more significantly. Consider the revenues the banks derive from fixed income trading. This is the bread and butter for Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. Revenues from this trading fell 47% and 50%, respectively. That compares to declines of 13% for JPMorgan and 17% for Bank of America.

 

 · Moving forward

 

I see banks reporting stronger numbers in each of the remaining quarters of the year. The living wills will present challenges, but banks have been crafting plans to meet federal rules since they took effect in 2010 when Dodd-Frank went into effect.

Steer clear of the pure plays as they continue to work in this interest rate environment. While trading activity picked up in the first quarter for some investment houses, I’d like to see that trend continue for the next few quarters.

Investors should continue to factor in interest rates and global economic activity and their effects on bank stocks. Also, remember that despite being so beat down, many firms in the financial sector are still attractive on a valuation basis.

Also consider that operating margins have been going up in banks, while they are falling in companies in other sectors in the S&P 500. That is a positive that observers note indicates that banks will be able to generate stronger sales and earnings in the long term.

 





2 responses to “Avoid Pure Plays in Banking For Now”

  1. amber tree says:

    Thx for this. I am actually considering some banks to my portfolio, via put writing.

    I like the diversity is key approach. I think I might start again with the XLF ETF for put writing.

    • Martin says:

      I like buying stock via put selling. It is a great tool to get stocks cheaper. Keep doing it and you will definitely improve your results greatly.
      Thanks for stopping by!

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