Recent actions by credit rating agencies have reignited concerns about the stability of the U.S. banking sector, especially among regional lenders. In a one-two punch that has rattled the industry, both S&P Global and Moody's downgraded several U.S. banks, citing various factors from funding risks to rising interest rates.
The Immediate Impact
S&P's latest downgrades have undoubtedly had an immediate market impact. Major banks like JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America saw their stock values fall nearly 2%, even though they weren't specifically mentioned in the rating agency's announcements.
Digging Deeper: The Core Concerns
The primary concerns center around weaker funding, substantial deposit outflows, and an adverse lending environment exacerbated by rising interest rates. Banks such as KeyCorp, Comerica Bank, and Valley National Bancorp have been pinpointed as particularly vulnerable due to their increased reliance on brokered deposits and other high-risk funding sources.
Moreover, as Brian Mulberry of Zacks Investment Management highlighted, the liquidity concerns raised by the downgrades stem from an essential disparity. Many banks hold loan portfolios that draw only 2.5-4.5% in interest income but are now compelled to pay depositors between 4.5-5.5% in savings and money market accounts.
But it's not just about the numbers. The recent failures of regional lenders like Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank have shaken confidence in the sector, prompting the launch of several emergency measures to stabilize the industry.
The Role of the Federal Reserve
It's impossible to discuss the current banking climate without mentioning the Federal Reserve's aggressive monetary policy. Which has seemed to be the most assertive seen in decades. The recent interest rate hikes, including the latest in July that lifted the benchmark rate to its highest since 2001, have compounded the pressures on small to mid-sized banks. As a result, these banks face increased funding costs as depositors seek higher-interest bearing accounts.
What Does the Future Hold?
S&P's commentary paints a somber picture, noting that while many asset quality measures currently appear benign, the sustained high-interest rate environment could lead to further asset quality degradation. There's an anticipation of a rise in non-performing assets, delinquencies, and charge-offs, potentially reaching or exceeding historical averages with higher interest rates squeezing borrowers.
if the sector's operating environment were to further deteriorate, even industry giants like JPMorgan Chase might not be immune from downgrades.
The back-to-back downgrades by S&P and Moody's, set against a backdrop of rising interest rates and recent bank failures, have understandably raised alarm bells. However, it's crucial for investors and the general public to see these downgrades in the broader context of evolving economic, regulatory, and monetary environments.
In the short term, banks will likely grapple with the challenges posed by the current financial climate. In the longer run, strategic adaptations combined with prudent oversight can foster resilience and ensure the sector's health and stability.