Shrinking Bank Revenue Signals Worst Decade of Growth
Shrinking revenue at U.S. banks, led by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Citigroup Inc., may continue to fall as the industry heads into what could be its slowest period of growth since the Great Depression.
After the six largest U.S. banks posted record revenue in 2009, combined net revenue fell by an average of 8 percent in the third quarter from a year earlier and 16.3 percent over the last two quarters, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Revenue so far this year is down by 4.1 percent, driven by declines in everything from trading at Goldman Sachs to home lending at Bank of America Corp. New laws restricting account and credit-card fees, as well as derivatives and capital rules, are also squeezing lenders.
Next year will kick off a decade that will bring the “worst revenue growth” for U.S. banks in 80 years, according to Mike Mayo, a banking analyst at Credit Agricole Securities USA Inc. in New York. Net revenue at U.S. commercial lenders has expanded at a slower pace in each of the last three decades, falling to 6 percent in the last decade from 12 percent in the 1970s, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data.
“Revenues aren’t just weak for this quarter, or even for this upcoming year, but for the entire upcoming decade,” said Mayo, a former Federal Reserve analyst who has more than 20 years of industry experience. “The speed limit’s been lowered for how fast banks can drive earnings.”
The trend over the last two quarters is hitting almost every line of income statements and is spread across the sector, affecting investment banks, consumer banks and commercial lenders. It’s eating away at profits, depressing stock prices and threatening bonuses and new hiring.
The 17.6 percent drop in net revenue since March 31 at Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America, the largest U.S. bank by assets, came mostly from its mortgage-lending and credit-card businesses. The company reported a $7.3 billion loss in the third quarter after taking a $10.4 billion goodwill writedown against new debit-card laws.
JPMorgan Chase & Co., where revenue dropped 13.9 percent over the same time frame, has been hurt by bad credit-card loans. Revenue from credit cards at the New York-based lender, the second-largest in the U.S., fell more than 17.6 percent in the third quarter from a year earlier.
The bank’s revenue is also suffering, along with the rest of the industry, from new restrictions on the fees it can charge for credit cards, checking accounts and other consumer services. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon, 54, told analysts Oct. 14 that the bank will lose about $750 million in profit as a result. He also said new derivatives rules will cost $1 billion in lost revenue.
Wells Fargo & Co.’s decline of 2.7 percent since the first quarter has come from its community-banking operations. New limits on overdraft fees trimmed revenue at the San Francisco- based lender by $380 million in the third quarter, Chief Financial Officer Howard Atkins told analysts on an Oct. 20 conference call.
Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, whose revenue fell 30 percent and 18 percent over the last two quarters, have been hampered by lower trading results. The two New York-based firms had the biggest drop of the six banks so far this year. Lucas van Praag, a Goldman Sachs spokesman, declined to comment. Shannon Bell, a spokeswoman for Citigroup, said it is “uniquely positioned to take advantage of growth opportunities in the emerging markets.”
Drawing Down Reserves
At Morgan Stanley, a fall in fixed-income and equity trading drove revenue down 25 percent over the six months. Goldman Sachs and New York-based Morgan Stanley posted declines in fixed-income trading revenue of more than 37 percent from a year earlier, while Citigroup’s investment banking revenue was down by 20 percent.
Lower credit costs and a less gloomy housing outlook allowed lenders to draw down reserves and set aside fewer provisions against consumer loan losses. That helped them to remain profitable. Net income for the first nine months was $39.6 billion for the six banks, compared with $39.5 billion for the same period last year. Still, some analysts questioned the growth prospects of an industry that made up as much as 20 percent of the profit from Standard & Poor’s 500 Index companies before the financial crisis, according to Bloomberg data.
“That five- or six-year period during the boom, that was just purchase activity created by credit,” said Christopher Whalen, a former Federal Reserve Bank of New York analyst and co-founder of Institutional Risk Analytics in Torrance, California. “The ‘new normal’ terminology, the cliche we all hate, is absolutely true. When you’ve withdrawn all of this credit from the economy, you’re also taking a component of revenue out.”
“We’ll be lucky” if revenue growth for U.S. banks is flat this decade, Whalen said.
Financial companies have trailed the broader equity market this year. The S&P 500 Financials Index is up 1 percent, while the overall S&P 500 Index has climbed 6.3 percent. Bank of America and Morgan Stanley have each fallen more than 17 percent through yesterday, while Citigroup had the only increase among the biggest six, jumping 27 percent before today.
The six largest lenders are trading at an average of 0.9 times their book value, less than half the average level over the last 10 years. Bank of America’s market value is about 53 percent of its book value, while Wells Fargo is trading at 1.2 times its book value.
Declining revenue growth rates for banks is a 40-year trend, according to FDIC data. U.S. banks had compound annual revenue growth of 12 percent from 1970 through 1979, about 10 percent during the 1980s, 8 percent in the 1990s and 6 percent over the most recent decade.
‘Not Your Friend’
“When it comes to decade-long revenue growth for banks, the trend is not your friend,” Mayo said. “Basic traditional banking is likely to remain weak. It’s a slower-growing economy, and banks can’t or shouldn’t try to overcome headwind by reaching for inappropriate risky growth.”
Gross domestic product in the U.S. is projected to grow by 2.7 percent this year, 2.4 percent next year and 3 percent in 2012, according to median estimates of 65 economists surveyed by Bloomberg.
To find growth, banks including JPMorgan are looking to expand their reach overseas, where GDP growth rates are about twice those of the U.S. The bank announced in February plans to double its 4 percent share of the Asian market over the next few years and has expanded its global commodities-trading unit through a $1.7 billion purchase of parts of RBS Sempra Commodities LLP earlier this year.
Citigroup, which already derives more than two-thirds of its revenue outside the U.S., is “well-aligned with the growth trends we see globally,” CEO Vikram Pandit, 53, told analysts Oct. 18.
Morgan Stanley is looking for growth from its brokerage unit after buying a controlling stake in a joint venture with Citigroup’s Smith Barney, more than doubling its brokerage ranks to about 18,000. Bank of America is also relying on its brokerage unit, Merrill Lynch, to sell investment services to existing bank customers, both in the U.S. and overseas.
Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf told analysts Oct. 20 that his bank is making up for lost revenue growth by offering customers service across multiple platforms -- where they shop, at ATMs, online, via telephone and mobile banking.
Generating growth will be about “taking share away from other banks,” said Whalen of Institutional Risk Analytics. “At best the global economy will be a zero-sum game.”
Bank revenue will benefit when loan growth returns, said Christopher Kotowski, an analyst at Oppenheimer & Co. in New York. In the savings and loan crisis of the 1990s, average annual loan volume didn’t grow until two years after the amount of new troubled assets peaked, he wrote in a July note to investors.
Consumer and commercial loans at U.S. banks climbed 0.6 percent in September to $6.8 trillion from a year earlier, the first rise in 15 months, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. That compares with an annual growth rate of 11 percent from 2005 through 2007 during the height of the housing boom. Loan volumes peaked at $7.29 trillion in 2008.
“Loan growth and job growth are always the last things to come back,” Kotowski said. “I know people are impatient because there’s a lot of pain out there, but I don’t think there’s a way to jumpstart the process. It needs to run its course.”
Appetites for Risk
William Rogers Jr., president of Atlanta-based SunTrust Banks Inc., told analysts Oct. 21 that large corporate customers are using about 17 percent of their loan capacity, compared with an average of “mid to high 20s.” For mid-size companies, the rate is in the “low 30s,” compared with an historic average in the low to mid 40s, he said. The rate of decline has abated this year, he said.
“I would hope that we’d start to see some kind of increase depending on some type of economic recovery,” he said.
Betsy Graseck, an analyst for Morgan Stanley in New York, said bank revenue will likely shrink this year and next before rebounding in 2012. Consumer loan growth and investor appetites for risk will begin to rise again late next year, she said.
“We’ve got two more years of slog and workout,” Graseck said. “We see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a faint glimmer, and it’s growing brighter over the course of the next two years.”
Bank revenue in the first quarter surged in part because of two government programs designed to revive the U.S. housing market -- the Fed’s $1.25 trillion mortgage-bond purchase program that ended in March and a homebuyer tax credit that expired in April. Revenue has been weak since.
Expenses aren’t falling as fast as revenue at the six largest banks, which is squeezing their operating margins. Non- interest expenses, including compensation and rent, fell 3 percent in the third quarter from a year earlier. The overhead ratio for the six banks -- non-interest expenses divided by revenue -- climbed to more than 60 percent for the first time since the height of the financial crisis in 2008.
That helped lead to Bank of America and Morgan Stanley posting the first quarterly per-share losses this year among the six banks.
Slower revenue growth could hinder banks’ plans to raise dividends. The six banks currently pay quarterly dividends totaling 51 cents, down from $2.49 in 2007. JPMorgan’s Dimon told investors earlier this month that he hopes to raise his bank’s dividend in the first quarter of next year, and Wells Fargo’s Atkins said last week that an increase is a “top priority” for the bank.
Banks also may be forced to cut pay and headcount if the revenue decline continues. Goldman Sachs reduced the amount it set aside for compensation in the first nine months of the year, as did the investment banking divisions at Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan. U.S. securities firms may cut as many as 80,000 jobs in the next 18 months as revenue growth slows, bank analyst Meredith Whitney, founder of New York-based Meredith Whitney Advisory Group LLC, said last month.
The size of the biggest banks places them at a disadvantage to increase revenue relative to smaller competitors.
“Size is a problem -- there are four banks that are over $1 trillion in assets, and it’s really tough for them to grow,” said Thomas Brown, CEO of Second Curve Capital LLC, a New York hedge fund that focuses on financial institutions. “The smaller banks have other issues, but their growth prospects are much better.”
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