There are a handful of safe haven stock sectors that investors tend to rely on during market downturns. Healthcare, utilities, and REITs come to mind. Lately, some have been saying bank shares may also prove a good defense. However, investors should be very wary of two of those just mentioned: healthcare and banks. While on the surface healthcare stocks look very good for a recession—it is not as if people stop getting sick—the reality is that there has never been more regulatory pressure on the sector (from both sides of the aisle), which means it is far from safe. Additionally, the idea that banks have become safe, utility-like dividend machines is flawed, as bank earnings are very exposed to the economic cycle, and thus will likely see big moves in both price and yield.
FINSUM: We agree with this assessment entirely. Healthcare is more vulnerable than it has been in memory and banks are a long way from being dependable utilities (excellent PR job by Wall Street though!).
It has been forecasted for some time, but now it is finally happening—US banks are hiking dividends. After getting the all clear from regulators after successful stress tests, US banks are beginning to hike their dividends. For instance, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup hiked their dividends by 13%+ recently, with both now yielding 2.5% or over. Bank stocks have been beat up over the last year, with Morgan Stanley down 10%, for instance.
FINSUM: On the one hand, bank stocks looked undervalued and now have attractive yields. On the other, if you think we are headed towards a slowdown, then it is not a good time to buy financial shares.
If you want to pick up some great bank stocks at a great discount, now is the time to do it. Despite great earnings, JP Morgan still looks inexpensive. Goldman Sachs does too. Both banks saw big trouble in their trading divisions in the first quarter, which has led to some attractive valuations. The problem for investors is that markets that keep doing what they have will not be bullish for the banks (i.e. low volatility), so options strategies may be the best way to play the situation.
FINSUM: Nothing would be better for this trade than if there was another big market disturbance that drove a bunch of volatility, which is quite good for trading revenue.
Something very worrying happened yesterday if you are an investor in bank stocks. Bank of America released what were widely considered to be stellar earnings, yet the stock fell. We don’t just mean stellar in the “oh, they beat estimates” sense, but that the company looks healthy even as some other banks (e.g. Goldman Sachs) look weak. However, the stock fell because the bank indicated that its cost pressures were rising, and coupled with the fact that yields are now lower, means the bank will have higher expenses and lower interest income, putting a squeeze on margins.
FINSUM: This does not seem to be unique to B of A, as the whole industry has the same interest margin and cost pressures.
Goldman Sachs investors took it on the chin this week. Earnings numbers just released look pretty grim, especially as compared to some other banks, like JP Morgan, which had good showings. The bank got hit by a triple whammy of lower trading revenues, weaker private equity profits, and lower fees from investment banking, all of which conspired to bring earnings down by 20% in the first quarter. David Solomon, CEO, is promising the company is undertaking a “front to back” performance review of Goldman’s businesses.
FINSUM: This looks particularly poor because JP Morgan was able to achieve the highest ever quarterly profit of a US bank during the same period.