Extrapolating trends in the United States to upcoming earnings from Canadian banks can be a dicey proposition. But here’s a couple of trends south of the border that may play out here when Canada’s big banks report second-quarter earnings in late May.
First, at the U.S. banks, with the conspicuous exception of Goldman Sachs, trading revenue and profit exploded. So watch the capital markets segment of Canada’s banks. This may be one of those quarters when capital markets revenue surges.
The election of Donald Trump triggered a dramatic rally in U.S. interest rates, as investors quickly recast their expectations for economic growth and future Federal Reserve rate hikes. The U.S. 10-year bond yield soared from 1.8 per cent just days before the election to 2.6 per cent in mid-December.
To banks that trade fixed income securities for institutional clients, that’s a dream scenario. Those clients want to know how their fixed income portfolios should be repositioned, and pay billions of dollar in fees for the banks to go ahead and make those changes.
JPMorgan Chase, the first Wall Street bank to report first-quarter results, enjoyed a 17 per cent gain in fixed income trading revenue. And – Goldman aside – it continued from there: Morgan Stanley – up 95 per cent, Citigroup – up 19 per cent, Bank of America – up 29 per cent.
Will that play through to the Canadian banks? Quite likely, yes.
Capital markets revenue is proportionately less important to Canada’s banks than to the U.S. Wall Street giants – but still material and often the reason behind earnings beats or misses. Remember, though, that U.S. banks report on a calendar-year basis and their first quarter ended on March 31. The Canadian banks report on a fiscal-year basis, and their second quarter will end on April 30.
The bank to watch in this country is National Bank of Canada. Its capital markets revenue stream is, at 26 per cent of total revenue, proportionately larger than those at the Big Five banks. The same applies to its fixed income, commodities and currencies trading revenue, or FICC – the same business that delivered the goods at the U.S. banks in the first quarter. Next in line are Bank of Montreal and Royal Bank of Canada.
The second trend to watch is retail banking in the U.S. – and a noticeable downdraft in loan growth. Toronto-Dominion Bank and BMO are the big players there, and each is vulnerable to a reluctance of U.S. consumers or businesses to borrow.
And that’s what we’ve heard from the big regional banks in the U.S. – the best point of comparison to the banking networks operated by TD (U.S. northeast) and BMO (U.S. midwest).
Even though net interest margins expanded for the big U.S. regionals, not one of them reported a faster pace of loan growth versus a year ago. Most of them reported material declines in loan growth.
The chief executive officer of M&T Bank told The Wall Street Journal his bank’s clients are “just waiting” for clearer signs from Washington on things like health care, which is a big expense for U.S. employers. The collapse of the Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act has employers – some of them clients of TD and BMO, no doubt - scratching their heads and wondering what comes next.