US banks have been recovering from the financial crisis at a good pace. Some are still struggling, but most of the pack is on the growth track and have cleaned their sour balance sheets. But what could happen if the Fed cuts its aggressive quantitative easing scheme? This could seriously hurt some banking stocks in the short-term as interest rates rise. This has already had some impact in the bond market as investors lost money amid increasing bond yields and could be the beginning of the end for the long bull market in this asset class. But the main question remains: when are rates going to rise?
Banks seek greater yields
Banks are looking for investments that result in more yield as the low-rate trap is affecting their earnings. The main options for these firms is relying on non-interest income, thus increasing fees, but this is not an option or they could lose consumers to the competition. The second, riskier alternative is long-term lending at low rates, or fixed rates. Investors looking for safer banking stocks should focus on the big banks that in some occasions have more sophisticated tools to counteract the interest rate risk: derivatives or interest rate swaps for example. Smaller banks cannot afford spending heavily on hedging instruments.
Bigger banks: better prospects
Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC) is also controlling costs as it is operating with a very good efficiency ratio of 58.3%. Another important aspect is that the bank has been reducing its long term debt: from $335 billion to $280 billion and decreasing the net-charge offs from $4 billion to $2.5 billion from the first quarter of 2012 to the first quarter this year.
What about JPMorgan Chase & Co.(NYSE:JPM)?
The bank has a diverse product range and is geographically diversified so cash flows are relatively safe. Although its non interest income has reduced 11% to $569 million in the first quarter of 2013 compared to the same quarter last year, the company posted $6.5 billion in net income which has improved 32% in the same comparison period. This indicates that the bank is still capable of generating revenue even as net interest income falls. Finally, another positive aspect is that JPMorgan Chase & Co.(NYSE:JPM) is one of the leaders in fees: it is #1 in global fees with an 8% of market share which should be tranquilizing for conservative investors.