Earnings season continues here in Australia. It’s a dour day for the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. One of Australia’s four big banks, Commonwealth Bank (ASX: CBA) reported the slowest profit growth in three years today. Net income was up a modest 8% to A$2.37 billion.
It may be determined to be different, but Commonwealth Bank is facing the same margin squeezing credit crunch as all the other Aussie banks. “The net interest margin, a measure of lending profitability, narrowed 5 basis points to 2.17 percent as funding costs increased A$100 million amid tighter global credit markets. Provisions for bad debts jumped A$138 million as interest rates rose,” reports Stuart Kelly at Bloomberg.
No one will have much sympathy for Commonwealth Bank. It raised interest rates on variable home loans by 30 basis points after the Reserve Bank’s last quarter point rise. On top of the 10 basis point preemptive raise in January, Australia’s largest home lender now charges 8.97% for its variable rate mortgage loans.
By the way, this is still one basis point lower than NAB’s variable rate and lower than ANZ’s variable rate of 9.02%. But all the banks are in the same neighborhood, aren’t they?
And are they a buy? We looked at the chart for Macquarie Bank (ASX: MQG) yesterday and suggested that the stock might have at least some technical support at $60. But a line on a chart can only tell you so much. What is the business really worth today?
“In our view,” writes our friend Greg Canavan at Fat Prophets, “the market does not believe the earnings forecasts for the sector. Neither do we. As we have stated in previous reports, we believe bank sector earnings have peaked and profitability is likely to decline as the cycle turns down.”
“The chart below from the Reserve Bank of Australia shows the long term profit growth performance from the major Australian banks. Since Australia’s last recession in the early 1990’s, the banks have produced exceptional profit growth. However it is unrealistic to expect anything like this to continue. We are entering a bear market in credit, and we believe the Australian banking sector is in a bear market too.
“This may seem an alarmist statement considering credit growth is running at the highest annual rate since 1989. But that is just the point, 1989 proved to be the last cyclical peak and we believe credit growth is peaking again. And given the comments coming from the RBA, interest rates are set to remain relatively high and credit is therefore expected to remain expensive.
“Credit growth is important for banks because it translates into growth in banks’ assets. If an individual borrows $250k from a bank, it is a liability on the individuals’ balance sheet but an asset on the bank’s. One man’s debt is another man’s asset. Banks earn a margin on their assets based on the difference between their cost of borrowing and what they charge the borrower. So all else being equal, asset expansion translates into profit growth.
“In recent years, banks have fuelled their profit growth by securitising assets (mortgages for example). This is a process whereby assets are packaged and sold to a third party. Removing assets from the balance sheet in this way frees up capital to make additional loans. It is fair to say that this game is over for the banks for the time being.”
Markets and Money