Billionaire hedge fund manager Alan Howard paid $59 million for a Manhattan townhouse in March. Just two months later he obtained a $30 million mortgage from Citigroup Inc.
Denis Sverdlov, worth $6.1 billion thanks to his shares in electric-vehicle maker Arrival, recently pledged part of that stake for a line of credit from the same bank. For Edgar and Clarissa Bronfman the loan collateral is paintings by Damien Hirst and Diego Rivera, among others. Philippe Laffont, meanwhile, pledged stakes in a dozen funds at his Coatue Management for a credit line at JPMorgan Chase & Co.
In the realm of personal finance, debt is largely viewed as a necessary evil, one that should be kept to a minimum. But with interest rates at record lows and many assets appreciating in value, it’s one of the most important pieces of the billionaire toolkit — and one of the hottest parts of private banking.
Thanks to the Bronfmans, Howards and Sverdlovs of the world, the biggest U.S. investment banks reported a sizable jump in the value of loans they’ve extended to their richest clients, driven mainly by demand for asset-backed debt.
Morgan Stanley’s tailored and securities-based lending portfolio approached $76 billion last quarter, a 43% increase from a year earlier. Bank of America Corp. reported a $67 billion balance of such loans, up more than 20% year-over-year, while loans at Citigroup’s private bank — including but not limited to securities-backed loans — rose 17%. Appetite for such credit was the primary driver of the 21% bump in average loans at JPMorgan’s asset- and wealth-management division. And at UBS Group AG, U.S. securities-based lending rose by $4 billion.
“It’s a real business winner for the banks,” said Robert Weeber, chief executive officer of wealth-management firm Tiedemann Constantia, adding his clients have recently been offered the opportunity to borrow against real estate, security portfolios and even single-stock holdings.
Spokespeople for Howard, Arrival and Laffont declined to comment, while the Bronfmans didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Rock-bottom interest rates have fueled the biggest borrowing binge on record and even billionaires with enough cash to fill a swimming pool are loathe to sit it out.
And for good reason. With assets both public and private at historically lofty valuations, shareholders are hesitant to cash out and miss higher heights. Appian Corp. co-founder Matthew Calkins has pledged a chunk of his roughly $3.5 billion stake in the software company — whose shares have risen about 145% in the past year — for a loan.
“Families with wealth of $100 million or more can borrow at less than 1%,” said Dan Gimbel, principal at NEPC Private Wealth. “For their lifestyle, there may be things they want to purchase — a car or a boat or even a small business — and they may turn to that line of credit for those types of things rather than take money from the portfolio as they want that to be fully invested.”
Yachts and private jets have been especially popular buys in the past year, according to wealth managers, one of whom described it as borrowing to buy social distance.
Loans also allow the ultra-wealthy to avoid the hit of capital gains taxes at a time when valuations are high and rates are poised to increase, perhaps even almost double. Postponing tax is a “significant benefit” for portfolios concentrated and diversified alike, according to Michael Farrell, managing director for SEI Private Wealth Management.
Critics say such loans are just one more wedge in America’s ever-widening wealth gap. “Asset-backed loans are one of the principal tools that the ultra-wealthy are using to game their tax obligations down to zero,” said Chuck Collins, director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies.
While using public equities as collateral is the most common tactic for banks loaning to the merely affluent, clients further up the wealth scale usually have a bevy of possessions they can feasibly pledge against, such as mansions, planes and even more esoteric collectibles, like watches and classic cars.
One big advantage for the wealthy borrowing now is the possibility that rates will ultimately rise and they can lock in low borrowing costs for decades. Some private banks offer mortgages on homes for as long as 20 years with fixed interest rates as low as 1% for the period.
The wealthy can also hedge against higher borrowing costs for a fraction of their pledged assets’ value, according to Ali Jamal, the founder of multifamily office Azura.
“With ultra-high-net worth clients, you’re often thinking about the next generation,” said Jamal, a former Julius Baer Group Ltd. managing director. “If you have a son or a daughter and you know they want to live one day in Milan, St. Moritz or Paris, you can now secure a future home for them and the bank is fixing your interest rate for as long as two decades.”
Securities-based lending does comes with risks for the bank and the borrower. If asset values plunge, borrowers may have to cough up cash to meet margin calls. Banks prize their relationships with their richest clients, but foundered loans are both costly and humiliating.
Ask JPMorgan. The bank helped arrange a $500 million credit facility for WeWork founder Adam Neumann, pledged against the value of his stock, according to the Wall Street Journal. As the value of the co-working startup imploded, Softbank Group Corp. had to swoop in to help Neumann repay the loans and avert a significant loss for the bank.
A spokesperson for JPMorgan declined to comment.
Still, for the banks it’s a risk worth taking. Asked about securities-backed loans on last week’s earnings call, Morgan Stanley Chief Financial Officer Sharon Yeshaya said they’d “historically seen minimal losses.” Among the bank’s past clients is Elon Musk, who turned to them for $61 million in mortgages on five California properties in 2019, and who also has Tesla Inc. shares worth billions pledged to secure loans.
“As James [Gorman] has always said, it’s a product in which you lend wealthy clients their money back,” Yeshaya said, referring to Morgan Stanley’s chief executive officer. “And this is something that is resonating.”
Preferred stocks are the little-known answer to the dividend question: How do I juice meaningful 5% to 6% yields from my favorite blue-chip stocks? “Common” blue chips stocks usually don’t pay 5% to 6%. Heck, the S&P 500’s current yield, at just 1.3%, is its lowest in decades.
But we can consider the exact same 505 companies in the popular index—names like JPMorgan Chase (JPM),Broadcom (AVGO) and NextEra Energy (NEE)—and find yields from 4.2% to 6.9%. If we’re talking about a million dollar retirement portfolio, this is the difference between $13,000 in annual dividend income and $42,000. Or, better yet, $69,000 per year with my top recommendation.
Most investors don’t know about this easy-to-find “dividend loophole” because most only buy “common” stock. Type AVGO into your brokerage account, and the quote that your machine spits back will be the common variety.
But many companies have another class of shares. This “preferred payout tier” delivers dividends that are far more generous.
Companies sometimes issue preferred stock rather than issuing bonds to raise cash. And these preferred dividends have a few benefits:
They receive priority over dividends paid on common shares.
Sometimes, preferred dividends are “cumulative”—if any dividends are missed, those dividends still have to be paid out before dividends can be paid to any other shareholders.
They’re typically far juicier than the modest dividends paid out on common stock. A company whose commons yield 1% or 2% might still distribute 5% to 7% to preferred shareholders.
But it’s not all gravy.
You’ll sometimes hear investors call preferreds “hybrid” securities. That’s because they act like a part-stock, part-bond holding. The way they resemble bonds is how they trade around a par value over time, so while preferreds can deliver price upside, they don’t tend to deliver much.
No, the point of preferreds is income and safety.
Now, we could go out and buy individual preferreds, but there’s precious little research out there allowing us to make a truly informed decision about any one company’s preferreds. Instead, we’re usually going to be better off buying preferred funds.
But which preferred funds make the cut? Let’s look at some of the most popular options, delivering anywhere between 4.2% to 6.9% at the moment.
Wall Street’s Two Largest Preferred ETFs
I want to start with the iShares Preferred and Income Securities (PFF, 4.2% yield) and Invesco Preferred ETF (PGX, 4.5%). These are the two largest preferred-stock ETFs on the market, collectively accounting for some $27 billion in funds under management.
On the surface, they’re pretty similar in nature. Both invest in a few hundred preferred stocks. Both have a majority of their holdings in the financial sector (PFF 60%, PGX 67%). Both offer affordable fees given their specialty (PFF 0.46%, PGX 0.52%).
There are a few notable differences, however. PGX has a better credit profile, with 54% of its preferreds in BBB-rated (investment-grade debt) and another 38% in BB, the highest level of “junk.” PFF has just 48% in BBB-graded preferreds and 22% in BBs; nearly a quarter of its portfolio isn’t rated.
Also, the Invesco fund spreads around its non-financial allocation to more sectors: utilities, real estate, communication services, consumer discretionary, energy, industrials and materials. Meanwhile, iShares’ PFF only boasts industrial and utility preferreds in addition to its massive financial-sector base.
PGX might have the edge on PFF, but both funds are limited by their plain-vanilla, indexed nature. That’s why, when it comes to preferreds, I typically look to closed-end funds.
Closed-End Preferred Funds
CEFs offer a few perks that allow us to make the most out of this asset class.
For one, most preferred ETFs are indexed, but all preferred CEFs are actively managed. That’s a big advantage in preferred stocks, where skilled pickers can take advantage of deep values and quick changes in the preferred markets, while index funds must simply wait until their next rebalancing to jump in.
Closed-end funds also allow for the use of debt to amplify their investments, both in yield and performance. Should the manager want, CEFs can also use options or other tools to further juice returns.
And they often pay out their fatter dividends every month!
Take John Hancock Preferred Income Fund II (HPF, 6.9% yield), for example. It’s a tighter portfolio than PFF or PGX, at just under 120 holdings from the likes of CenterPoint Energy (CNP), U.S. Cellular (USM) and Wells Fargo (WFC).
Manager discretion means a lot here. That is, HPF doesn’t just invest in preferreds, which are 70% of assets. It also has 22% invested in corporate bonds, another 4% or so in common stock, and trace holdings of foreign stock, U.S. government agency debt and cash. And it has a whopping 32% debt leverage ratio that really helps prop up the yield and provide better returns (though at the cost of a bumpier ride).
You have a similar situation with Flaherty & Crumrine Preferred and Income Securities Fund (FFC, 6.7%).
Here, you’re wading deep into the financial sector at nearly 80% exposure, with decent-sized holdings in utilities (7%) and energy (7%). Credit quality is roughly in between PFF and PGX, with 44% BBB, 37% BB and 19% unrated.
Nonetheless, smart management selection (and a healthy 31% in debt leverage) has led to far better, albeit noisier, returns than its indexed competitors. The Cohen & Steers Select Preferred and Income Fund (PSF, 6.0%) is about as pure a play as you could want in preferreds.
And it’s also a pure performer.
PSF is 100% invested in preferred stock (well, more like 128% if you count debt leverage), and actually breaks out its preferreds into institutionals that trade over-the-counter (83%), retail preferreds that trade on an exchange (16%) and floating-rate preferreds that trade OTC or on exchanges (1%).
Like any other preferred fund, you’re heavily invested in the financial sector at nearly 73%. But you do get geographic diversification, as only a little more than half of PSF’s assets are invested in the U.S. Other well-represented countries include the U.K. (13%), Canada (7%) and France (6%).
I graduated from Cornell University and soon thereafter left Corporate America permanently at age 26 to co-found two successful SaaS (Software as a Service) companies. Today they serve more than 26,000 business users combined. I took my software profits and started investing in dividend-paying stocks. Today, it’s almost impossible to find good stocks that pay a quality yield. So I employ a contrarian approach to locate high payouts that are available thanks to some sort of broader misjudgment. Renowned billionaire investor Howard Marks called this “second-level thinking.” It’s looking past the consensus belief about an investment to map out a range of probabilities to locate value. It is possible to find secure yields of 6% or more in today’s market – it just requires a second-level mindset.
A blue chip is stock in a stock corporation (contrasted with non-stock one) with a national reputation for quality, reliability, and the ability to operate profitably in good and bad times. As befits the sometimes high-risk nature of stock picking, the term “blue chip” derives from poker. The simplest sets of poker chips include white, red, and blue chips, with tradition dictating that the blues are highest in value. If a white chip is worth $1, a red is usually worth $5, and a blue $25.
In 19th-century United States, there was enough of a tradition of using blue chips for higher values that “blue chip” in noun and adjective senses signaling high-value chips and high-value property are attested since 1873 and 1894, respectively. This established connotation was first extended to the sense of a blue-chip stock in the 1920s. According to Dow Jones company folklore, this sense extension was coined by Oliver Gingold (an early employee of the company that would become Dow Jones) sometime in the 1920s, when Gingold was standing by the stock ticker at the brokerage firm that later became Merrill Lynch.
Noticing several trades at $200 or $250 a share or more, he said to Lucien Hooper of stock brokerage W.E. Hutton & Co. that he intended to return to the office to “write about these blue-chip stocks”. It has been in use ever since, originally in reference to high-priced stocks, more commonly used today to refer to high-quality stocks.
Petram, Lodewijk: The World’s First Stock Exchange: How the Amsterdam Market for Dutch East India Company Shares Became a Modern Securities Market, 1602–1700. Translated from Dutch by Lynne Richards. (Columbia University Press, 2014, ISBN9780231163781)
Stringham, Edward Peter; Curott, Nicholas A.: On the Origins of Stock Markets [Part IV: Institutions and Organizations; Chapter 14], pp. 324-344, in The Oxford Handbook of Austrian Economics, edited by Peter J. Boettke and Christopher J. Coyne. (Oxford University Press, 2015, ISBN978-0199811762)
Shiller, Robert: The United East India Company and Amsterdam Stock Exchange, in Economics 252, Financial Markets: Lecture 4 – Portfolio Diversification and Supporting Financial Institutions. (Open Yale Courses, 2011)
Google GOOG+1.5% is revising its advertising policy to let cryptocurrency wallets advertise with them, along with exchanges, starting August 3rd provided that they are either registered with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) or a federal or state chartered bank entity. The new policy will apply globally to Google search and its third-party sites, including YouTube, Gmail, or Blogger..
The expanded policy comes three years after Google banned all crypto-related advertising in March 2018. However, Google walked-back the policy five months later, allowing regulated cryptocurrency exchanges such as Coinbase to advertise in the United States and Japan in September 2018. While expanded to allow cryptocurrency exchanges and wallets to advertise, ads for initial coin offerings (ICOs), decentralized finance (DeFi) trading protocols, or promotions of specific cryptocurrencies are not permitted under the new policy.
Reversing this policy could be a boon to their advertising sales, which generated $147 billion in revenue, making up more than 80% of Alphabet’s total revenue. Public interest in cryptocurrencies and crypto exchanges has ballooned in recent months as a result of Coinbase’s direct listing in April and the record-breaking bitcoin rally when the leading crypto reached it’s all-time-high price of $64,671.23.
The industry has also seen a surge in traditional institutional players such as Fidelity and JPMorgan JPM-0.3% offer crypto investment services. Worldwide search interest in cryptocurrency exchanges and wallets is down from their peaks in mid-May, however the levels are still elevated.
It remains to be seen how this reversal in the policy will lead to a further loosening on other major advertising platforms that have placed restrictions on crypto firms. In 2018, Facebook banned all ads promoting cryptocurrencies, including bitcoin and initial coin offerings.
A few months later, Facebook edited the policy to introduce an eligibility review process for those looking to advertise certain cryptocurrency products or services; applicants should submit any licenses, listings on public stock exchanges, or other relevant public background.
Twitter, similarly to Facebook and Google, prohibits the advertisement of initial coin offerings or crypto token sales but allows exchanges or wallet services provided by a publicly traded crypto company to advertise with them provided as long as they comply with local laws.
Alphabet Inc.’s Google, the world’s largest digital advertising seller, will let companies offering cryptocurrency wallets run ads beginning in August.
In 2018, Google barred ads for cryptocurrencies and related products, following a similar move from Facebook Inc. But Google soon peeled back that restriction for digital currency exchanges. Starting in August, Google will let wallets run ads on search, YouTube and other properties as long as they go through the company’s certification process.
Google is making the change “in order to better match existing FinCEN regulations and requirements,” a spokesperson said Wednesday in a statement.
As stocks stumble and cryptocurrency markets reel from a steep $400 billion correction, JPMorgan analysts warned in a Monday morning research note that other risky pockets in the broader market, including buzzy special purpose-acquisition companies and clean-energy stocks, are starting to approach bear market territory, unraveling the massive gains priced in under the longest bull market in history as investors worry about problematic inflation ahead.
Though global stocks are only down 2.5% from their peaks in April and May, some stock indexes—including the tech-heavy Nasdaq—are down about twice as much in a telltale sign that “markets are expensive and inflation is running hot” enough to doubt the central bank policy that’s been supporting economic growth, JPMorgan analysts wrote in a Monday note.
Headlining the stark reversal of fortunes, the value of the world’s cryptocurrencies—after roughly tripling this year—has crashed nearly 18% from a Wednesday high due in large part to a slew of negative tweets from billionaire Elon Musk, a vocal cryptosupporter who’s recently soured on the world’s largest cryptocurrency.
Meanwhile, clean energy stocks, which tripled last year in anticipation of sweeping progressive climate legislation, have fallen more than 35% since January as the broader tech sector slips and inflation hikes up the prices of the commodities necessary to manufacture products in the field.
Blockbuster public-market debuts have been a hallmark of the pandemic stock market—with new listings from Airbnb, Coinbase, DoorDash and more—but after soaring more than 100% in a year to a peak in February, newly listed U.S. stocks are down 26%, according to the Renaissance IPO ETF.
It gets even worse for SPACs (themselves a frothy market indicator) and the companies they’ve taken public, which have plummeted an average of nearly 38% from a February high, according to the first-ever SPAC ETF.
That big drop is in line with the 34% plunge the ARK Innovation ETF—a fund invested in “disruptive” tech and whose biggest holding is Tesla—has witnessed since February.
“All of these moves are consistent with a chain reaction that occurs when markets are expensive . . . but the ecosystem connecting the economy, markets and the [Federal Reserve] isn’t a nuclear power plant destined for meltdown,” JPMorgan analysts led by John Normand wrote Monday, pointing out that past market cycles have shown about 80% of “seemingly expensive asset classes” that crash in one business cycle end up returning to previous highs in the next cycle.
Analysts agree that the Federal Reserve’s unprecedented pandemic stimulus efforts have helped lift stocks and other assets to meteoric new price highs. However, concerns that pent-up demand and an economy awash with cash could spark problematic inflation and force the Fed to rethink its policy are now starting to rock the market. Stocks posted their worst week in three months last week, and at the same time, other assets have become increasingly sensitive to unpredictable shocks—most notably in the crypto market’s volatile reactions to Musk’s hot-and-cold tweets.
What To Watch For
“An inflation-induced stock market correction is possible, but an inflation-fueled shift in market leadership is more likely,” analysts at wealth advisory Glenmede wrote in a Monday note to clients, echoing commentary from other experts predicting that value stocks in recently hard-hit sectors like energy and financials will lead the market this year, as opposed to longtime market leaders in technology.
Noteworthy investments to protect against inflation include energy stocks, gold and Treasury bonds indexed to inflation (also known as TIPS).
I’m a reporter at Forbes focusing on markets and finance. I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I double-majored in business journalism and economics while working for UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School as a marketing and communications assistant. Before Forbes, I spent a summer reporting on the L.A. private sector for Los Angeles Business Journal and wrote about publicly traded North Carolina companies for NC Business News Wire. Reach out at email@example.com.
De la Vega, Joseph: Confusión de confusiones (1688): Portions Descriptive of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange. Selected and translated by Hermann Kellenbenz. (Cambridge, MA: Baker Library, Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, 1957)
Stringham, Edward Peter; Curott, Nicholas A. (2015), ‘On the Origins of Stock Markets,’ [Chapter 14, Part IV: Institutions and Organizations]; in The Oxford Handbook of Austrian Economics, edited by Peter J. Boettke and Christopher J. Coyne. (Oxford University Press, 2015, ISBN978-0199811762), pp. 324–344
JP Morgan is my friend, not the bank, but the Victorian banker. He said, “I’ve made a fortune selling too early” and as a bitcoin seller at $32,000 I invoke him as justification. Having said that, and I have stated this tactic in previous columns, I have done at least as well with about half the VAR (value at risk) by playing with the fire that is DeFi.
If you are using decentralized exchanges or keeping tokens or passing them through your wallet, it is often hard to keep track of it all. It is even easy to forget what you have and where. However, there is a great app to keep tags on your ethereum and DeFi positions and it’s called Zerion. It is a tremendous tool for keeping a tally of what you have in the wild game of token trading and it’s free and you can log in using your wallet so there is no painful registration process. I am finding it indispensable.
Meanwhile I am now back in the same position as I was before I sold the bitcoin, of hanging onto my positions by my cuticles with a wildly undiversified and unbalanced portfolio that morphs by the day into a gloriously profitable but unmanageable series of extremely volatile positions. Leaving good investing and/or trading practice at the door is an extremely hazardous approach but it seems unavoidable to capture this rapture.
In a matter of days I’ve gone from “buying all the things” to wanting to flee but that is purely because pretty much all DeFi, credible or otherwise, has gone on a massive vertical that dwarfs the performance of bitcoin and ethereum.
Here is one of my favorites that I hold and you can see why an old school equity guy, a value investor to boot, gets a nose bleed from this kind of price ascent:
Matic, previously called polygon, is not a one-off, it is just a good example. The “why” of it is simple: Matic is a solution to many of the difficulties facing ethereum and its congestion: it is a seasoned project, it is linked to a lot of major players in Silicon Valley by investment, and it has a market cap of about $1 billion, 10% of a Bumble. In the current hepped up investment environment this is chump change and the winners in DeFi will go on to be worth $10-$100 billion, even without the printing press shifting the decimal point with inflation. Chainlink, the leader of the gang, is already nearing a $10 billion valuation. So this is not a ridiculous valuation if you grok that DeFi really is a revolutionary tech that will change everything, it’s just the price performance that makes an old investor’s nerve endings start shorting out.
All that aside, the key question once again is, is the market going up or down? Bitcoin down, all crypto down; bitcoin up, all crypto up. To me, I believe these price levels are the upper faces of this mountainous cycle, but many still consider them the foothills.
So what can help us know where we are? The all-seeing eye of Google can help. Here is a chart from Google Trends:
You can see how diagnostic Google trends is when you see the progress in search of the crypto hero of the day, doge, and can judge the rise and fall of the stock hoard of Reddit’s WallStreetBets.
Bitcoin is the leader and definer of this cycle and its performance will direct the performance of all the other cryptos. Musk’s bitcoin tweets are in the data for all to see.
Whether you are a BTC $1 million by Christmas prophet or a doubter expecting an imminent correction, this is a chart to watch because the price of bitcoin and ethereum is FOMO-driven and when that impulse passes, that will be the top for this cycle. FOMO, and we are now seeing corporate FOMO, is a powerful force but it is a acute one not a chronic one, so crypto will not ride the FOMO wave indefinitely.
There are a lot of extremely strong technical charts out there, so for now I’m hanging tough, but as we have seen before, as bitcoin gyrated between $30,000 and $40,000, these markets are fragile.
Volatility is liable to shake me out soon, but it could be days or weeks, perhaps even months before it does – but a week is now a long time in crypto and that in itself is a signal which one can choose to pay attention to.
The final indicator is transaction fees. These are now exorbitant. When they start to fall it will be a signal that the FOMO is falling and for now the only way transaction fees are going is skywards.
While I have to rise at 6:00 a.m. to get reasonable transaction fees before the rest of the world wakes up, I’m going to be holding on.
I am the CEO of stocks and investment website ADVFN . As well as running Europe and South America’s leading financial market website I am a prolific financial writer. I wrote a stock column for WIRED – which described me as a ‘Market Maven’ – and am a regular columnist for numerous financial publications around the world. I have written for titles including: Working Money, Active Trader, SFO and Technical Analysis of Stocks & Commodities in the US and have written for pretty much every UK national newspaper. In the last few years I have become a financial thriller writer and have just had my first non-fiction title published: 101 ways to pick stock market winners. Find me here on US Amazon. You’ll also see me regularly on CNBC, CNN, SKY, Business News Network and the BBC giving my take on the markets.
The Winklevoss Twins have doubled down on their $500,000 dollar Bitcoin prediction. Banking giant, Citi, has said they believe the Bitcoin price is heading toward $318,000 by the end of this year. JP Morgan says $650k is possible. The stock to flow chart for Bitcoin shows a $290,000 dollar Bitcoin. There are a ton of predictions out there and it’s hard to make sense of these numbers. It’s hard to know who is talking about the price a year from now and who is talking about a price 10 years from now.
But one thing is almost guaranteed. We are very far away from the peak of this bull run. In today’s video, I’m going to give you my new Bitcoin prediction and why I’ve had to upgrade this Bitcoin rally from bullish to ULTRA bullish. After HOURS of examining charts and cycles, I’ve come up with this brand new prediction. I’ll go over my original Bitcoin prediction and evaluate how it worked out.
For America’s biggest banks, the past twelve months have been one of the biggest tests of their resilience in history. The Coronavirus pandemic all but shuttered the U.S. economy for months, spurring enormous shifts in business and consumer habits. Lenders big and small, from America’s four megabanks to small regional firms, have passed their test with flying colors.
Despite some of the sharpest drops in gross domestic product and employment ever witnessed, banks were able to serve their customers and remain profitable. In 2020, there were just four bank failures in the U.S., despite the extraordinary economic circumstances. Only about 5% of banks nationwide were unprofitable, according to data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and about 53% of banks reported annual increases in profits in 2020.
The pristine shape is thanks to effective emergency measures implemented by Washington that thawed corporate and mortgage credit markets, offered stimulus and small business aid to Main Street, and allowed for widespread forbearance. These factors helped firms play their role as the financial cog that lubricates the American economy.
Corporations used low rates to issue and refinance debt at record rates in 2020, creating a cash cushion. Homeowners did the same, taking advantage of near-record-low interest rates to purchase homes or cut their interest costs. Technology also played a big role as the banking industry undergoes a digital transformation. Consumers could handle their finances on mobile apps during quarantine, instead of at temporarily closed bank branches, and digital change is helping to bolster profitability.
Not only did the stellar performance help the economy through the pandemic, it has positioned the United States for an enormous economic boom as Americans are inoculated from Covid-19 and the economy reopens in full. Millennials are entering the housing market in droves, industries like software and technology are growing rapidly, and businesses will soon be on the offensive in areas like travel, entertainment and retail.
There are more than 5,000 banks and savings institutions in the U.S., but assets are increasingly concentrated at the top. The 100 largest have $16.4 trillion in assets, representing over 80% of total U.S. bank assets. Asset quality and profitability vary wildly among those institutions. With that in mind, Forbes examined the financial data to gauge America’s Best and Worst Banks.
Born out of the financial crisis of the late 2000s, this is the twelfth year Forbes enlisted S&P Global Market Intelligence for data regarding the growth, credit quality and profitability of the 100 largest publicly-traded banks and thrifts by assets. The ten metrics used in the rankings are based on regulatory filings through September 30. The data is courtesy of S&P, but the rankings are done solely by Forbes.
Metrics include return on average tangible common equity, return on average assets, net interest margin, efficiency ratio and net charge-offs as a percentage of total loans. Forbes also factored in nonperforming assets as a percentage of assets, CET1 ratio, risk-based capital ratio and reserves as a percentage of nonperforming assets. The final component is operating revenue growth. We excluded banks where the top-level parent is based outside the U.S.
CVB Financial, the parent company of Citizens Business Bank, was the top-rated bank in America for a second consecutive year, The Ontario, California-based small business lender was in the top-20 across every metric Forbes tracked, and it shone brightest in its efficiency ratio (39.%), operating revenue growth (41.5%) and posted a negative net charge off ratio. The median bank on Forbes’ list, by contrast, had a 57% efficiency ratio, posted operating growth of just 5.4%, and experienced a charge off rate of 0.17% of average loans. CVB, founded in 1974 and with over $13 billion in assets and over 50 branches across the state of California, has been profitable for 174 consecutive quarters, though a long streak of rising profitability was temporarily broken.
Smaller banks, and those focused on commercial lending, continued to dominate the top levels of the Forbes Best Banks list. Just one bank inside the top-20 had more than $100 billion in assets.
Houston-based Prosperity Bancshares ranked at #2, rising six spots from our 2020 list, thanks to its surging growth. Operating revenue rose 54% in 2020, and the lender performed well in efficiency and capitalization. Rounding out the top-5 were Kalispell, Montana-based Glacier Bancorp, Colorado Springs-based Central Bancorp and Conway, Arkansas-based Home BancShares. Average assets in our Top-5 was just $20 billion.
In the top-10 were McKinney, Tx-based Independent Bank Group, #6, DeWitt, NY-based Community Bank System, #7, Bank of New York Mellon, #8, Santa Clara, CA-based SVB Financial Group, #9, and Wilmington, DE-based WSFS Financial. Bank of New York Mellon was one of our biggest risers, gaining 44 spots, and outperforming on loan quality.
For the first time ever, the Big Four of U.S. banking—JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo—saw their combined assets exceed $10 trillion, or more than half the U.S. total. None of these banks finished in our Top-50, generally falling due to below-average growth as they set aside massive provisions to deal with the pandemic and were hit by plunging interest rates. JPMorgan Chase ranked highest at #51, dropping eight spots. Citigroup gained 10 spots to place at #65. Bank of America and Wells Fargo both slid, placing at #74 and #98, respectively.
JPMorgan, led by CEO Jamie Dimon, ended 2020 on a high note, reporting a record $12 billion profit as it released reserves built up to handle Covid-19 related economic stress. Despite the extraordinary circumstances, the lender saw average loans and its capital position rise to end the year, and it reported a surge in bank deposits. During 2020, the bank raised over $2 trillion of credit and capital for its clients, spanning ordinary U.S. households to the biggest corporations on the planet.
“In general, the banks have so much capital, so much liquidity and so much capability,” Dimon recently told investors in a December conference, weeks before the bank reported record annual revenues. While Dimon remains concerned about the pandemic as vaccines are distributed, and sees a varied recovery for consumers and businesses, he added of the banking industry, “I think we’re coming out of this looking great.”
Wells Fargo continued to fall in Forbes’ rankings in the wake of a 2016 fake accounts scandal that has cost the bank billions of dollars and led to dramatic change atop the lender. Wells dropped twelve spots in 2019, placing #98, due to a pronounced slump in revenues as the Federal Reserve limits its asset growth.
Over the past 12-months, JPMorgan’s stock has fallen 0.4%, making it the best performer among big banks, which all saw their stocks drop and underperform the S&P 500 Index. Citigroup shares have shed 19%, while Banks of America dropped 7%. Once more, Wells Fargo was the big laggard, falling by a third in value over the past year.
Rounding out the top-100 was Texas Capital Bancshares, #99, and CIT Group, #100.
New York-based business lender CIT Group is in the process of acquiring family-controlled First Citizens Bancshares, which ranked #62. The merger that will create a new diversified consumer and business lender with over $100 billion in combined assets, and a large presence in booming Sun Belt markets like Florida, Georgia and Tennessee. The merger comes a year after the combination of SunTrust and BB&T, which created $499 billion in assets Truist Financial, #48, which created a dominant lender in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast.
I’m a staff writer and associate editor at Forbes, where I cover finance and investing. My beat includes hedge funds, private equity, fintech, mutual funds, mergers, and banks. I’m a graduate of Middlebury College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and I’ve worked at TheStreet and Businessweek. Before becoming a financial scribe, I was a member of the fateful 2008 analyst class at Lehman Brothers. Email thoughts and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter at @antoinegara
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JPMorgan Chase & Co. sees Bitcoin as a future competitor of gold as an asset class, with the long-term potential to reach $146,000, Bloomberg reports.
Why It Matters: It would be quite the climb for Bitcoin, which rallied to a record $34,000 before retreating a bit on Monday. But it’s a long way off, if anything. Private investment in Bitcoin would have to grow at a multiple of nearly five to match the investment in gold via ETFs or bars and coins.
But a healthy future for Bitcoin depends on its volatility coming down to gold’s level, encouraging more institutional investment.
A group of strategists led by Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou said this could be a “multiyear process.”
Bitcoin’s Current Price (9:00 a.m. ET): $31,701.10
As prices continue to improve and volatility appears to stabilize, more institutions and noted investors are getting involved or expressing interest. But a heated debate over Bitcoin remains:
“While some argue that the cryptocurrency offers a hedge against dollar weakness and inflation risk in a world awash with fiscal and monetary stimulus, others say retail investors and trend-following quant funds are pumping up an unsustainable bubble.”
The Future, For Now: JPMorgan anticipates headwinds for the digital currency, with indicators “like a buildup of speculative long positions and an increase in investment wallets holding small amounts of Bitcoin showing potential froth.”
Bitcoin rose 1.7% to $31,567 as of 10:31 a.m. in London. The wider Bloomberg Galaxy Crypto Index added 0.9%. On Monday, Bitcoin slid as much as 17%, the biggest drop since March, after breaching $34,000 for the first time over the weekend. The swings are a reminder of the famed volatility of the largest cryptocurrency, whose price has more than quadrupled over the past year.
Bitcoin has the potential to reach $146,000 in the long term as it competes with gold as an asset class, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co. Bitcoin’s market capitalization of around $575 billion would have to rise by 4.6 times — for a theoretical price of $146,000 — to match the total private sector investment in gold via exchange-traded funds or bars and coins, strategists led by Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou wrote in a note. But that outlook depends on the volatility of Bitcoin converging with that of gold to encourage more institutional investment, a process that will take some time, they said.
“A crowding out of gold as an ‘alternative’ currency implies big upside for Bitcoin over the long term,” the strategists wrote Monday. However, “a convergence in volatilities between Bitcoin and gold is unlikely to happen quickly and is in our mind a multiyear process, according to Bloomberg. This implies that the above-$146,000 theoretical Bitcoin price target should be considered as a long-term target, and thus an unsustainable price target for this year.”
More institutions and noted investors, from Paul Tudor Jones to Scott Minerd and Stan Druckenmiller, have either started allocating funds into Bitcoin or have said they’re open to doing so. While some argue that the cryptocurrency offers a hedge against dollar weakness and inflation risk in a world awash with fiscal and monetary stimulus, others say retail investors and trend-following quant funds are pumping up an unsustainable bubble.
For now, JPMorgan sees headwinds for the largest cryptocurrency, with indicators like a buildup of speculative long positions and an increase in investment wallets holding small amounts of Bitcoin showing potential froth. “The valuation and position backdrop has become a lot more challenging for Bitcoin at the beginning of the New Year,” the strategists wrote. “While we cannot exclude the possibility that the current speculative mania will propagate further pushing the Bitcoin price up toward the consensus region of between $50,000-$100,000, we believe that such price levels would prove unsustainable.”
#bitcoin#gold#bitcoinpricetarget Yahoo Finance’s Dan Roberts weighs in on JPMorgan’s bullish note on bitcoin. For 2020 election results please visit: Election results: https://www.yahoo.com/elections Subscribe to Yahoo Finance: https://yhoo.it/2fGu5Bb About Yahoo Finance: At Yahoo Finance, you get free stock quotes, up-to-date news, portfolio management resources, international market data, social interaction and mortgage rates that help you manage your financial life. About Yahoo Finance Premium: With a subscription to Yahoo Finance Premium, get the tools you need to invest with confidence. Discover new opportunities with expert research and investment ideas backed by technical and fundamental analysis. Optimize your trades with advanced portfolio insights, fundamental analysis, enhanced charting, and more. To learn more about Yahoo Finance Premium please visit: https://yhoo.it/33jXYBp Connect with Yahoo Finance: Get the latest news: https://yhoo.it/2fGu5Bb Find Yahoo Finance on Facebook: http://bit.ly/2A9u5Zq Follow Yahoo Finance on Twitter: http://bit.ly/2LMgloP Follow Yahoo Finance on Instagram: http://bit.ly/2LOpNYz Follow Cashay.com Follow Yahoo Finance Premium on Twitter: https://bit.ly/3hhcnmV
Credit card giant Visa today announced it is connecting its global payments network of 60 million merchants to the U.S. Dollar Coin (USDC) developed by Circle Internet Financial on the ethereum blockchain. The digital currency is now valued at $2.9 billion.
While Visa itself won’t custody the digital currency, effective immediately, the partnership will see Circle working with Visa to help select Visa credit card issuers start integrating the USDC software into their platforms and send and receive USDC payments. Circle itself is also going through the same Fast Track program. In turn, businesses will eventually be able to send international USDC payments to any business supported by Visa, and after those funds are converted to the national currency, spend them anywhere that accepts Visa.
After Circle itself graduates from Visa’s Fast Track program, likely sometime next year, Visa will issue a credit card that lets businesses send and receive USDC payments directly from any business using the card. “This will be the first corporate card that will allow businesses to be able to spend a balance of USDC,” says Visa head of crypto Cuy Sheffield. “And so we think that this will significantly increase the utility that USDC can have for Circle’s business clients.”
The partnership, in conjunction with an earlier $40 million investment Visa led in a cryptocurrency startup for holding similar assets issued on a blockchain, a recent blockchain patent application for minting traditional currency on a blockchain, and an increasing amount of work directly with central banks, is the latest evidence that the credit card giant sees the technology first popularized by bitcoin as a crucial part of the future of money.
“We continue to think of Visa as a network of networks,” says Sheffield, a five-year veteran of Visa, who took over as head of crypto last June. “Blockchain networks and stablecoins, like USDC, are just additional networks. So we think that there’s a significant value that Visa can provide to our clients, enabling them to access them and enabling them to spend at our merchants.”
Leading up to the partnership, Visa had already onboarded 25 cryptocurrency wallet providers as part of its Fast Track program—including Fold and Cred— each of which can now pilot the USDC integration. Going forward, other cryptocurrency wallet providers like BlockFi, which yesterday announced it will launch its bitcoin rewards Visa next year, will be able to use USDC in the first quarter of 2021.
Visa estimates that $120 trillion in payments annually are made using checks and instant wire transfers, costing as much as $50 each, regardless of the size of the transaction. Since USDC settles on the ethereum blockchain, transactions can close in a little a[s] 20 seconds and, importantly, can be done for nearly free, Visa believes its vast array of merchants could choose to use this nearly instant alternative form of payment. “We worked closely with digital currency wallets to issue Visa credentials,” says Sheffield. “And helping them receive USDC payouts can add additional value for them.”
Visa’s entrance into the digital dollars world is the culmination of two years of work at the credit card giant. At the core of Visa’s evolution is a new understanding of itself as a network of networks, according to Sheffield, some of which Visa owns, like Visa Net, and others it doesn’t, such as the Swift interbank payment network, local ACH networks and now USDC.
On the product side, Visa’s cryptocurrency work is largely focused on its Fast Track program for helping companies obtain credentials for issuing Visa credit cards. Most notably, in February 2020, Coinbase became the first cryptocurrency company to be granted principal membership status by Visa, meaning it can in turn issue cards to others. Relatively few of those companies are using crypto-assets like bitcoin, according to Visa’s global head of financial technology, Terry Angelos. While the majority of the crypto-plays consist of “tokenized versions of fiat,” similar to USDC, backed by traditional currency, issued on a blockchain and spendable via the card.
On the research side, Visa’s work in the area is largely focused on investing in startups and filing patents. Last year, Visa made its first public investment in blockchain by coleading a $40 million Series B in digital currency infrastructure provider Anchorage, which builds technology for storing assets issued on a blockchain. Angelos compares the investment to Visa’s 2015 backing of e-commerce infrastructure provider Stripe, which could go public this year at a $36 billion valuation. While Anchorage is a much earlier-stage startup, founded in 2017, the firm has already developed a number of technological breakthroughs, including privacy-preserving technology called Zether, which JPMorgan used in its own cryptocurrency project.
Especially relevant to today’s news, Sheffield describes Anchorage’s cryptocurrency custody technology as a possibly crucial component for central banks looking to issue digital currencies (CBDCs). While stablecoins like USDC are backed by currency issued by a central bank, a CBDC would be issued directly by the central bank and could lead to a reimagining of traditional finance. While former JPMorgan exec Daniel Masters argues CBDCs could make commercial banks unnecessary, Sheffield says they’ll still have a place in the future of currency issued on blockchains. “We are actively working with commercial banks to help them understand and navigate transitions to digital currency based products.”
On a related note in March 2020, Visa’s research team applied for a patent for technology that could be used by central banks to issue any fiat currency, of which dollars, yen and renminbi are an example. At the time, a spokesperson indicated that the technology was as likely to be used for the creation of a new product, as it was to “protect” its existing businesses. Sheffield further clarified: “We are continuously exploring and filing patents for innovative technologies like digital currency and CBDC.”
On their way to today’s announcement, both Visa and Circle have undergone a number of high-profile crypto-pivots. In October 2019, after making a huge bang by being a member of Facebook-founded Libra Association’s consortium of companies building a stablecoin backed by a basket of fiat currencies, Visa left the organization.
That same month, Circle, which has raised $271 million in venture capital, initiated a fire sale on two of its most valuable assets, starting with cryptocurrency exchange Poloniex, followed by Circle Invest in February 2020. Another product, Circle Pay, no longer lets customers buy or sell bitcoin or any other cryptocurrency and its once-vaunted OTC desk is closed.
As all this was happening, the firm, whose full name is, tellingly, Circle Internet Financial, rebranded its home page with a focus exclusively on stablecoins and central bank digital currencies. Circle founder Jeremy Allaire, whose last company, online video site Brightcove, went public in 2012 and is now valued at $659 million, envisioned the company as a payment rail for the internet.
While his focus was initially on bitcoin, then other cryptocurrencies, USDC is built on top of ethereum, meaning tiny amounts of the cryptocurrency ether are used as “gas” to pay for the transactions. While the drastic changes to the business are notable, the underlying mission appears to have remained the same.
USDC was first minted in September 2018. Unlike bitcoin, it is backed 1:1 by U.S. dollars, which are audited by accounting firm Grant Thornton to ensure the actual amount of the asset in circulation is at least equal to the dollars backing the assets. While exchanges and marketplaces that directly accept USDC as payments (without Visa or another card provider) are responsible for their own AML-KYC compliance, reserves are governed by the nonprofit Centre Consortium founded by Visa principal member Coinbase and Circle, with other members forthcoming.
To help manage all this and open up membership to other companies, the consortium yesterday announced its first CEO, David Puth, the former leader of CLS Bank International, a similarly structured foreign exchange settlement consortium owned by 70 financial institutions.
The first use-case for stablecoins was as an on-ramp and off-ramp for bitcoin investors who wanted to enter or exit positions faster than traditional banks could do with dollars. USDC’s market cap, representing the total amount of dollars in circulation, has been rising with the price of bitcoin since March 2020, when bitcoin started an eight-month, 271% ascension to $19,134, according to CoinGecko. Over the same period, USDC has grown 525% to almost $3 billion today. While the first stablecoin, Tether, is still king with a market capitalization of $18 billion, a number of others are now also competing, including DAI at $1 billion and Binance USD at $662 million.
Then, this March, Circle started offering services to let businesses accept USDC as payment, similar to those that run on FedWire, Swift and ACH rails, starting at about $200 a month. But instead of taking up to three days to close, transactions denominated in USDC and other stablecoins close almost instantly. So far about 1,000 businesses including institutional traders, banks, neobanks, on-demand delivery companies and gaming companies have opened accounts. Allaire says he’s in talks with a number of financial institutions exploring USDC as a possible upgrade to their corporate treasuries.
In June 2020 Circle announced it would start issuing USDC on the faster Algorand blockchain, which settles on average in four seconds, as part of what it describes as a “multichain framework.” In rapid-fire succession the firm then announced the Stellar and Solana blockchains would also be used to issue USDC. Algorand and Solana issuances are already live, with Stellar issuances scheduled to be minted in Q1 2021.
While onboarding to crypto trading markets was the first stablecoin-use case, things are evolving. In March 2020 USDC was approved as a form of collateral for loans issued using the MakerDAO protocol, the industry leader of a new financial category called DeFi, or “decentralized finance,” where services typically offered by banks, like lending, are offered via open-source software that allows individuals to directly connect. Of the $14.5 billion now locked in DeFi platforms according to data tracking site DeFi Pulse, nearly 20% are on Maker, with nearly half of that, or about $403 million worth, now in the form of USDC.
Long before DeFi was called DeFi, though, it went by a different, more illuminative name: DAO, short for “Distributed Autonomous Organization.” After some early high-profile failures the concept was rebranded with the focus on finance. Even the name MakerDAO hearkens back to this earlier, if occasionally overshadowed vision for the future of organizations. Allaire describes that future as a world where everything from contractual agreements to the payment of taxes are built into plumbing that directly connects individuals and enterprises in a wide range of new kinds of business relationships.
“Imagine a capital marketplace that is for anyone who needs capital, or anyone who needs to offer capital that has the same efficiency that Amazon has for e-commerce, the same efficiency that YouTube has for content, effectively, capital markets with the efficiency of the internet, which is essentially zero,” says Allaire. “And that will ultimately return trillions of dollars in value back to the economy, it will reduce costs for every business in the world, it will accelerate the way in which individuals can participate in commercial activity and commerce activity, in conducting their labor and interacting with businesses around the world.” Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Send me a secure tip.
I report on how blockchain and cryptocurrencies are being adopted by enterprises and the broader business community. My coverage includes the use of cryptocurrencies and extends to non-cryptocurrency applications of blockchain in finance, supply chain management, digital identity and a number of other use cases. Previously, I was a staff reporter at blockchain news site, CoinDesk, where I covered the increasing willingness of enterprises to explore how blockchain could make their work more efficient and in some cases, unnecessary. I have been covering blockchain since 2011, been published in the New Yorker, and been nationally syndicated by American City Business Journals. My work has been published in Blockchain in Financial Markets and Beyond by Risk Books and I am regularly cited in industry research reports. Since 2009 I’ve run Literary Manhattan, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization dedicated to showing Manhattan’s rich literary heritage.
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Peloton is reducing the price of its flagship bicycle and adding two new products—it’s the first major expansion for the fitness giant, which has seen its stock surge nearly 200% since the beginning of the pandemic as demand for home fitness equipment skyrocketed.
Peloton currently sells a stationary bike and a treadmill, plus a $39 monthly subscription service for live and pre-recorded classes that reached one million subscribers in May.
Peloton will reduce the price of its current stationary bike model to $1,895 (starting Wednesday) and introduce a new $2,495 bike (available Wednesday) and a $2,495 treadmill (available in 2021); Peloton’s current treadmill model, priced at $4,295, will still be available.
The hope is that the new, cheaper price will make Peloton’s product more accessible and the upgraded bike, which will come with a handful of new features like a screen that pivots for off-bike workouts, will capture the high-end market.
On Friday, JPMorgan raised its price target for Peloton from $59 to $109, citing strong continuing demand for home fitness products because of the pandemic.
Peloton’s stock jumped 10% on Tuesday morning and is currently trading at $89.
“Our goal is to be the go-to at-home fitness solution for as many people as possible,” Peloton CEO John Foley said in a statement, “and with these new product launches, we’ll be able to offer access to Peloton’s best-in-class fitness content at various price points, depending on what consumers are looking for, especially in a world where people are increasingly working out at home.”
What to watch for
Peloton reports quarterly earnings on Thursday. In the last quarter, the company reported $524.6 million in revenue, a 66% bump, and a net loss of $55.6 million.
Apple is also working on a digital fitness subscription service to compete with Peloton, but analysts say it’s unlikely that the new product will be able to derail Peloton’s popularity and demand, primarily because Peloton’s product includes a physical exercise machine alongside the digital product.
I’m a breaking news reporter for Forbes focusing on economic policy and capital markets. I completed my master’s degree in business and economic reporting at New York University. Before becoming a journalist, I worked as a paralegal specializing in corporate compliance.
First the good news: The biggest US banks have had time to brace themselves for a wave of losses.
The bad news: They are still bracing themselves to withstand a wave of losses. Their earnings this week suggest the worst is yet to come for the American economy, and that Washington may need to provide even more support for workers and businesses.
Six of the biggest lenders all expect heavy credit defaults and soured loans, as shown by their loan loss provisions, which jumped 43% from the already hair-raising totals in the first quarter to a combined $36 billion in the second quarter.
Loan loss provisions aren’t, as they sound like, a special pot of money set aside for when loans go bad. It’s more like the amount of money banks expect to lose on their loans; it demonstrates the losses their capital may have to absorb in the months ahead and is subtracted from their earnings.
Approaching the moment of truth
For now the dire picture is merely a forecast.
Four months after lockdowns started smothering the world’s largest economy, bank losses have barely ticked up. JPMorgan Chase, for example, reports that charge-offs in its consumer business are little changed from a year ago.
Meanwhile, banks with powerful trading desks profited as stock prices gyrated and companies flooded the bond market with borrowing. JPMorgan said its markets unit had a record $9.7 billion of revenue, a 79% increase from 2019. Morgan Stanley had record profit, while Goldman Sachs said its fixed-income, currency, and commodities division had more than $4 billion of sales, its best quarter in nine years.
The big consumer lenders have yet to be battered by defaults and missed payments because of a ferocious wave of government support—including more than $2 trillion of aid to businesses and the unemployed—and because the banks themselves have offered forbearance and paused loan repayments for some of their customers. Bank of America said it has handled around $30 billion of requests for loan payment deferrals since the crisis set in, and that those requests have fallen by 98% since they peaked in April.
“You look at the banks and they are preparing of Armageddon and nothing is going wrong yet,” says David Ellison, a portfolio manager at Hennessy Funds. He’s optimistic the lenders can work through heavy credit losses—they got a lot of practice in 2009—but they will still have to contend with low interest rates, which makes their bread-and-butter lending businesses less profitable. They also increasingly have to compete with private equity firms that often target the same commercial clients.
If the government doesn’t agree on ways to continue supporting the economy as the initial relief programs expire, “things could start to fall off” for the banks, Ellison says. “And that’s where the banks are saying, ‘If that happens I have to be prepared for it.’”
JPMorgan Chase added $6.8 billion to its credit reserves and is more pessimistic about the economic downturn than it was three months ago. It expects heavy losses in the coming months that extend into 2021. “May and June will prove to be the easy bumps in terms of this recovery,” CFO Jennifer Piepszak said in an earnings call this week. ”And now we’re really hitting the moment of truth, I think, in the months ahead.”
Bank of America’s top executive expects the recession to extend “deep into 2022.” On an earnings call today (July 16), CEO Brian Moynihan said the lender expects US unemployment to end the year at 10% before gradually declining to 7.5% in 2021.
Wells Fargo, Citi
Not quite everything is gloomy. Wells Fargo CEO Charles Scharf said debit card spending made it back to pre-Covid levels in May; in the last week of June, debit card spending was up 10% from a year ago. But credit card spending remained subdued, some 10% lower in June from a year ago. Transactions using commercial cards were even weaker, down 30% during the last week of June, he said.
Citigroup’s CEO thinks the economy will only limp forward until a vaccine is available. “Normalization to me is, am I willing to get on the airliner, am I willing to get in a subway, am I willing to go into a crowded venue to watch a sporting event or a concert or what it may be,” Citigroup chief Michael Corbat said this week in an earnings call. “And I think realistically, when we get to that third bucket, I just don’t see that coming. And I would say many don’t see that coming until we feel like there’s an antivirus vaccine that’s available for the mass population around that.”
In the meantime, the carnage is expected to be widespread. Banks around the world are forecast to have more than $2 trillion in credit losses through 2021, according to analysts at Standard & Poor’s. Some $1.3 trillion of those losses are anticipated to come this year, more than double that of 2019.
“The unprecedented level of fiscal support that many governments across the world have deployed in response to the pandemic-related slowdown has been a key factor in supporting their citizens and economies during lockdown periods,” the S&P analysts wrote. “Perhaps the greater danger at this time is the reduction of such support too early, resulting in a longer and deeper economic contraction.”
It’s not clear that officials in Washington, having already committed trillions of dollars, are ready to spend even more. Beefed-up unemployment benefits have been a key plank of America’s response to the crisis, providing an extra $600 a week to workers who qualify. That program will fade away at the end of July unless politicians agree on a way to extend the aid. The government also dished out half a trillion dollars of loans through the Small Business Administration (SBA) to keep businesses afloat—a program that was built on the fly and riddled with inefficiencies but is widely credited with helping to keep the economy afloat.
Karen Mills, who ran the SBA during the Obama presidency, says more money is urgently needed for small enterprises. She forecasts that as many as 30% of these little operators are at risk of closing their doors for good. “We know already there are a number of businesses on the edge,” she said. “The next tranche of funding from the government is critical.” Critical to small businesses, certainly. And also important for their banks.