Europe Bank Selloff Deepens as Traders Locked in `No Man's Land'

What's the Heart of the Problem in European Banks?
  • Europe banks more than 40 percent cheaper than broader market
  • Technical measure called RSI below even crisis levels

It’s been a bad seven weeks for European banks -- worse even than during the 2008 financial crisis, by one measure.

Societe Generale SA was the latest on Thursday to report earnings that missed estimates, tumbling the most since 2011 and dragging the whole sector down. Credit Suisse Group AG joined Deutsche Bank AG and Italian and Greek counterparts trading at or near record lows. A technical measure of market momentum has shown market stress more times than even during the latter part of 2008.

European banks have fallen to their lowest prices since early August 2012. That was right when they started rallying, after European Central Bank President Mario Draghi pledged to save the euro. Now even speculation that he’ll step up support as soon as next month is doing little to calm investors.

While central banks around the world have been keeping interest rates low to help an recovery, signs of an economic slowdown and the oil rout are hitting the market, sparking a global selloff that’s already erased $16.4 trillion from equities since last year’s high. European lenders have particularly suffered. Worries that Deutsche Bank would struggle to meet debt obligations snowballed with growing concerns about bad loans and the repercussions of tougher regulations.

“Everyone came to the realization that the business model of most banks is not really in line with the past and they can’t achieve the same results like in the past,” said Benno Galliker, a trader at Luzerner Kantonalbank AG. “There’s another problem: interest rates are almost zero and what else can the central banks do? Now we are in a no man’s land and we have to figure out how bad it is really. It seems like the all-mighty power of the central banks has almost vanished.”

Societe Generale tumbled as much as 15 percent after reporting earnings at the investment bank sank 35 percent. Credit Suisse, which posted a loss last week, has declined 43 percent this year. Deutsche Bank, hit this week by concern over its creditworthiness, is down 39 percent.

While all industry groups have suffered, lenders have been hit the hardest -- those in the Stoxx Europe 600 Index have plunged 29 percent this year, including their biggest selloff since August 2011 on Thursday. U.K. banks weren’t spared, with Standard Chartered Plc down 31 percent in 2016, reaching its lowest price since 1998.

The relative strength index for the regional banks index has been below a level that technical analysts call oversold for 12 times since January, data compiled by Bloomberg show. That’s the most on record so soon in the year and worse than during the height of the financial crisis.

With a valuation of less than 8 times estimated earnings, European lenders are more than 40 percent cheaper than the broader market. Their multiple has dropped from almost 13 last year. In the U.S., companies in the KBW Bank Index trade at about 10.

“2008 is not that far away, and people still remember what happened then,” Galliker said. “It’s kind of scary.”

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