Many retail investors find building a view on the banking sector particularly daunting: attribution of P&L drivers require acquiring a considerable amount of insight into the investment banking landscape.
However, it’s not impossible for a shrewd investor to build a broad picture from the global economic landscape. In this article, we draw parallels between said landscape and the banks underlying some of the ETPs we have on offer – HSBC (ticker: HSBC), Barclays (ticker: BCS), J.P. Morgan (ticker: JPM), Citi (ticker: C) and Goldman Sachs (ticker: GS).
European Banks: Gradual Improvement
Europe’s biggest bank by assets, HSBC, reported profit before tax of $8.78 billion for 2020, down from $13.35 billion a year earlier. The bank’s Hong Kong office accounted for $8.2 billion, while Mainland China and India contributed $2.61 billion and $1.02 billion respectively. This was offset by the bank’s losses due to higher expected credit losses and other credit impairment charges, and lower revenue, partly offset by a fall in operating expenses on a global level.
In 2020, Barclays faced the recessionary effects its corporate clients were experiencing and assisted their survival by helping raise funds on their behalf in the debt and equity markets. As a result, income from corporate and investment banking rose by 22% to £12.5bn, which – according to the bank’s management – made it the “best year ever”. Barclays went on to beat analysts’ consensus expectations by remaining profitable in every single quarter and posting a yearly profit before tax of £3.1bn, thus beating the FTSE 100 and all of its primary UK rivals.
However, analysts contend that the bank’s retail arm, which took a significant hit from lower margins and consumers taking on less credit while paying down debts since the onset of the pandemic, is a matter of concern and will likely face further headwinds in 2021.
Both banks have had to contend with the low interest rate environment – which had lowered interest rate-related income – and were forbidden from share buyback programmes in order to preserve capital in 2020.
In 2021, HSBC has decided to virtually its shutter its Paris office and shift focus to Mainland China and India. Barclays, having beaten analysts’ estimates before, remain confident in staying ahead of the pack.
US Banks: Outperforming Expectations
Banks in the U.S. – possibly the worst-hit nation in the pandemic – were grimly prepared to take the full brunt of the pandemic. In December, they had $236.6 billion in total loan loss reserves in December, nearly double their level from before the coronavirus spread across the world. However, leading executives are reportedly quite comfortable: the economy – even during the pandemic – had outperformed banks’ internal forecasts.
In Q4 2020, relative to analyst’s survey estimates by Refinitiv, JP Morgan’s share price exceeded expectations by 45% at $3.79, with posted revenues exceeding expectations by 5% at $30.16 billion. Citigroup exceeded share price expectations by 55% at $2.08 while posted revenues were 1% lower than expectations at $16.5 billion. Goldman Sachs continued to lead the pack by exceeding share price expectations by 62% at $12.08 a share and revenue expectations by 85% at $11.74 billion. Interestingly, some of the cost savings came on account of lockdowns: banks reported billions in total were saved from their travel, entertainment and other such cost drivers.
Now in 2021, vaccine distribution is ramping up in the U.S. and a $1.9 trillion stimulus package was signed into law in the final week of March 2021. It’s thus likely that both U.S. consumers and businesses have dodged the worst-case financial scenario. U.S. banks are beginning to release a substantial portion of their loss reserves for circulation and their equities desks continue to outperform their fixed-income operations, as expected.
It also seemed that U.S. banks had been prudent lenders in their prime brokerage business. During the Archegos debacle, it was revealed that the brunt of the losses were absorbed by Credit Suisse and Nomura – at $4 billion and $2 billion respectively – while Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have indicated that their losses will be minimal, despite both having dealings with Bill Hwang’s troubled hedge fund. However, on April 15, Morgan Stanley surprised their investors by reporting a total loss of $911 million because of the collapse of Archegos Capital Management. Goldman Sachs clarified that it was among the first to reduce its exposure to loans made to Archegos.
SPACs: Turning a Quick Profit
Leading banks all over the world have been cashing in on a recent trend hitting equities markets: SPACs. A SPAC – Special Purpose Acquisition Company – is a “blank check” shell corporation designed to take companies public without going through the traditional IPO process.
As the pandemic created uncertainty in the IPO market and – as a result – private companies (or, more usually, private equity funds) began to eye viable exit opportunities, SPACs skyrocketed in 2020. While SPACs hit a record $13.6 billion in 2019—in itself more than 4X the $3.2 billion they raised in 2016 – this went up to $41.7 billion (or 44% of all public offerings) in the first nine months of 2020 alone. This was due to a synergy of opportunities on both sides of the deal: the target company is able to go public quickly while investors obtain high-reward investments with limited risk. Also, in the U.S., IPO fees are nearly twice of that compared to Europe.
The banks arranging this deal also benefit: a SPAC can be filed with very few details (unlike a traditional IPO), carries very little balance sheet risk and shifts responsibility for due diligence to the investors. In addition, disclosed fees for SPAC IPOs average at about 5.2% of gross proceeds and over the lifetime of the deal, can also net up to 50% more than IPOs in advisory deals.
Bloomberg data reveals that 4 out of the 5 banks we offer ETPs in have been particularly sizeable beneficiaries in the SPAC boom: