Banks currently have numerous concerns to contend with: elevated interest rates, escalating deposit rates, and declining profitability. Adding to these worries is the specter of bond rating downgrades.
Banks heavily rely on bond sales to support their operations, and credit rating agencies are conveying that these issuances may become costlier due to a confluence of challenges making the environment more challenging for financial institutions across the nation.
The first signal of potential bond rating downgrades emerged last week when Moody’s Investors Service downgraded ten medium-sized institutions by a single notch, raised concerns about reviewing six additional lenders, and assigned an unfavorable outlook to eleven others.
Subsequently, bank stocks experienced another decline on Tuesday following a report from a Fitch Ratings analyst via CNBC, suggesting that the entire industry could face a downgrade from AA- to A+.
If such a transition were to occur according to Fitch, this would position the industry’s rating beneath that of some of the nation’s largest banks, including JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America. Consequently, credit ratings for these major banks would necessitate reduction, potentially triggering broader downward adjustments for many smaller competitors.
The outcome of this scenario is that investors will demand higher returns to invest in bonds issued by banks with lower ratings. As a result, this would escalate costs for banks, exacerbating pressure on their profits.
Morgan Stanley analyst Manan Gosalia noted in a recent research note, “We anticipate support from debt investors to persist, albeit at a higher cost. The concern lies in the potential persistence of this wave of downgrades, extending beyond the third quarter.”
Most bank stocks experienced declines on Tuesday, with the KBW Nasdaq Bank Index falling by 2.8%, and the KBW Nasdaq Regional Bank Index decreasing by 3.4%.
Among the largest banks in the country, Bank of America suffered the most significant drop, declining by 3.2%. M&T Bank experienced a decrease of 4.2%, while Western Alliance and Comerica saw drops of 4% and 4.5%, respectively.
New regulatory demands have emerged alongside the focus on the expenses tied to bond sales. Regulatory authorities are pushing for banks to issue more long-term debt as a means of bolstering stability during periods of strain.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Federal Reserve, and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency are jointly crafting a proposal that would mandate banks with assets of at least $100 billion to issue sufficient long-term debt to absorb losses in the event of regulatory intervention. This requirement aligns with previous proposals that banks of this size should hold more capital to absorb losses.
This long-term debt obligation would facilitate banks’ ability to retain depositors during times of market distress, as explained by FDIC Chair Martin Gruenberg.
Gruenberg stated, “Such a long-term debt requirement enhances financial stability in multiple ways. It absorbs losses prior to impacting depositors, including the FDIC and uninsured depositors. This reduces the incentive for uninsured depositors to hastily withdraw funds.”
He mentioned that the proposal would offer a reasonable timeline for meeting the debt obligation and consider the existing outstanding debt. The decision to apply this requirement to banks with as little as $100 billion in assets was influenced by events earlier in the year.
The failures of several sizable banks within the range of $100-250 billion earlier this year led to outflows throughout the banking system and concerns of potential additional failures. Some mid-sized banks managed to attract depositors back by offering higher interest rates, although this has cut into a crucial measure of profitability.
One bank trade association, the Bank Policy Institute, observed that Gruenberg’s speech did not address the costs of implementing this new requirement at a time when these banks already face substantial increases in deposit funding costs.
Tabitha Edgens, a Senior Vice President and Senior Associate General Counsel at BPI, remarked, “With this proposal, the government would introduce a significant supply of bank debt into the market. However, it remains uncertain whether there will be adequate demand for it, potentially leading this proposal to have unintended negative consequences.”
Minneapolis Federal Reserve President Neel Kashkari expressed on Tuesday that “banks have navigated through this reasonably well.” Yet, he emphasized the risk that if inflation is not effectively controlled, the Fed might need to raise interest rates further, potentially exposing banks to more significant losses than they currently face.
Kashkari voiced agreement with the proposal to mandate banks with at least $100 billion in assets to hold more capital. He went on to say, “In my personal view, this doesn’t go far enough. While it represents a step in the right direction, I would advocate for a more substantial approach.”
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