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JP Morgan downgrades local banks as NIMs peak, costs rise, growth slows

Goola Warden
Goola Warden • 3 min read
JP Morgan downgrades local banks as NIMs peak, costs rise, growth slows
As NIM peaks, costs rise, and growth slows, JP Morgan downgrades local banks
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The turmoil over Credit Suisse, AT1, tier 2, tier 1, CET1 and capital ratios may cause banks to hold fewer AT1 securities. This would mean they would need capital from elsewhere. If banks decide to hold more CET1 to make up for less AT1, then banks could decide to hold on to a larger portion of their net profit as this boosts retained earnings (the best kind of CET1). The local banks have a dividend policy of paying out around 50% of their earnings. More retained earnings means less dividends.

The second part of CET1 ratio is the risk-weighted assets denominator. CET1 can be higher If the denominator is lower. As a result, banks could be inclined to veer towards loans with lower risk-weights.

On March 30, JP Morgan downgraded the local banks for slightly different reasons. The report points out that credit costs and NPLs could rise against a background of weaker global growth for 2023 and 2024. The mini banking crisis for regional US banks and Credit Suisse is likely to lead to less liquidity, which could have a similar impact as interest rate hikes of as much as 200 bps, according to some US pundits. Against that backdrop, the US Federal Reserve may not be inclined to raise the Federal Funds Rate much further than its current level of around 5%.

If there are no more rate hikes this year, the banks’ highest net interest margins may be behind them. On the contrary, as funding costs such as deposits catch up, NIMs could even be under pressure.

Altogether, higher credit costs, pressured NIMs and a potential recession are good enough reasons to downgrade the banks, which is what JP Morgan has done in its March 30 report.

"Multiples should move below fair as NPLs increase, irrespective of rate-led PPoP (pre-provisioning operating profit) support in 2H2023-1H2024. Regulatory tightening on payout, deposit insurance and risk weights cannot be ruled out. Our downgrade is on expectations of a recession, not a crisis. Yet the risk here is persistent inflation makes it tougher to unwind duration risk, hence recession can be longer,” JP Morgan says.

See also: Analysts raise target prices for Centurion Corp following healthy 1QFY2024 results

In its March 30 report, JP Morgan's recommendation is to underweight DBS (formerly neutral), and OCBC (formerly overweight) while UOB is neutral from overweight. Over and above that, Singapore banks have outperformed developed market banks this year. JP Morgan attributes this to quality of capital, liquidity and risk management. This outperformance in itself provides an opportunity to trim exposures, the report adds.

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