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Are Bank Stock Gains Sustainable?

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It has been a tough ride for bank stocks this year, with the industry unable to sustain the post-election momentum after mid-February 2017. As a group, bank stocks didn’t do much from mid-February through early September. But they have experienced dramatic gains since September 8th, with a number of major bank stocks trading at or near their highs for the year.

This lack of sustained performance notwithstanding, the industry remains an integral part of the ‘Trump Trade’, with the industry handily outperforming the broader market since November 7th.

The chart below plots the performance of the Zacks Major Banks industry relative to the S&P 500 Index since the elections. Please note that the Zacks Major Banks industry includes all the money-center banks and big regionals that kick-off the Q3 earnings season for the industry on Thursday October 12th with the JPMorgan (JPM - Free Report) and Citigroup (C - Free Report) results.

What this chart (blue line represents the banking group) shows is that stocks in the Zacks Major Banks industry are up +28.5% since November 7th, outperforming the S&P 500 index’s +19.2% gain in that same time period. The broader Finance sector, of which the Major Banks industry is big part, accounting for roughly 40% of the sector’s total earnings, is up +24% since November 7th.

Bank stocks are up more than +8% over the past month, roughly double the S&P 500’s performance in that time period. Optimism about tax policy changes appears to be a contributing factor to the group’s recent momentum. It’s hard to be overly optimistic about substance and timing of a policy legislation given the healthcare experience, but lower corporate taxes will be highly beneficial to the banking industry. As large as many of these big industry players are, they are still primarily domestic oriented businesses that stand to benefit from lower corporate tax rates (just as small-cap stocks do).

Trends in treasury yields have an outsized bearing on bank stocks since they are a big driver of bank margins. You can see this correlation in the year-to-date stock market performance of the industry relative to the 10-year treasury yield (bank industry is blue line), with the industry’s bounce since September 8th coinciding with the most recent bottoming in the treasury yields.

Whether the group’s recent outperformance over the past month is a function of treasury yields, or hopes of tax law changes or both, it’s foundations appear shaky. Tax cuts would be good for banks, but who knows when or whether they will arrive. Treasury yields have been unable to cross the 2.4% level at the high end, though they reached that level three times since March this year. They are heading to that level again, with the 10-year yield getting a modest bump from the stronger-looking wage growth numbers in the otherwise ‘noisy’ September jobs report. But if recent history has to repeat itself, then we should look for yields to start moving down after getting close to the 2.4% level.  

With these two supports for the group less than credible, let’s take a look at the group’s earnings potential to see if we can find support there.

What Are Banks Expected to Report in Q3?

Bank earnings failed to impress in the Q2 earnings season and all of the factors that weighed on Q2 results remained in place in Q3 as well, keeping expectations in check. Net interest margin benefited from the June Fed rate hike, but that incremental gain likely got offset by persistent deceleration in loan growth and soft trading revenues. The September quarter is traditionally a seasonally weak period on the capital markets front. This year’s Q3 was mixed, with stable fixed income trading flows and positive fixed income underwriting trends offset by weak equity trading volumes and issuance.

What all of this means is that bank stocks could benefit from low and relatively easy-to-beat expectations.

Total Q3 earnings for the Zacks Major Banks industry are expected to be down -5.1% from the same period last year on +2.2% higher revenues. This would follow +10% earnings growth in Q2 and +19.4% growth in 2017 Q2. JP Morgan (JPM - Free Report) and Citigroup (C - Free Report) , on deck to release Q3 results on Thursday, are expected to report -6.6% and -8.2% lower earnings from the year-earlier level, respectively.

The table below shows the sector’s Q3 earnings growth expectations at the medium-industry level contrasted with estimates for the following four quarters and actual results for the preceding three periods.

Please note that the Major Banks industry, of which JPMorgan, Citigroup and others are part, accounts for roughly 45% of the sector’s total earnings (insurance is the second biggest earnings contributor, accounting for about 25% of the total). The insurance industry has been hard hit by this year’s very active and impactful hurricane season, with estimates for insurers taking a big hit since the quarter got underway.

We discussed the hurricane impact in our weekly Earnings Trends report here >>>>Earnings Impact of Hurricanes

Expectations for Q3

Total Q3 earnings are expected to be up +2.2% from the same period last year on +5% higher revenues. This would follow +11.1% earnings growth in 2017 Q2 on +5.5%, the second quarter in a row of double-digit earnings growth.

Estimates for Q3 came down as the quarter unfolded, with the current +2.2% growth down from +6.3% at the end of June. The chart below shows how Q3 earnings growth expectations have evolved since the start of the quarter.

Please note that while Q3 estimates have followed the well traversed path that we have been seeing consistently over the last few years, the magnitude of negative revisions nevertheless compares favorably to other periods. In other words, Q3 estimates have come down, but they haven’t come down by as much.

The table below shows the summary picture for Q3, contrasted with what was actually achieved in Q2.

In terms of sector focus, the strongest growth in Q3 is coming from the Energy sector which benefits from easy comparisons. Excluding the Energy sector, the aggregate growth pace drops to +0.4% from +2.2%. The Conglomerate sector is the only other sectors with double-digit growth rates. Earnings growth is also strong for the Technology sector, with total earnings for the sector expected to be up +9.7% on +6.7% higher revenues.

On the negative side, Q3 earnings are expected to be below the year-earlier level for 8 of the 16 Zacks sectors, with double-digit declines for the Transportation, Aerospace, Basic Materials and Autos sectors.

The chart below shows Q3 earnings growth expectations contrasted with what is expected in the following three quarters and actual results in the preceding 5 quarters. As you can see in the chart below, the growth pace has started decelerating from the double-digit level of the first two quarters of the year.

The chart below shows the weekly reporting calendar for the S&P 500 index. As you can see, we have only 8 index members reporting results this week, with the earnings season really ramping up the following week.

Note: Sheraz Mian manages the Zacks equity research department. He is an acknowledged earnings expert whose commentaries and analyses appear on and in the print and electronic media. His weekly earnings related articles include Earnings Trends and Earnings Preview. He manages the Zacks Top 10 and Focus List portfolios and writes the Weekly Market Analysis article for Zacks Premium subscribers.

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Here is a list of the 20 companies including 8 S&P 500 and reporting this week.

Company Ticker Current Qtr Year-Ago Qtr Last EPS Surprise % Report Day Time
BARRACUDA NTWRKCUDA0.070.06-12.50%TuesdayAMC
VOXX INTL CPVOXX-0.010.12-100.00%TuesdayAMC
BLACKROCK INCBLK5.565.14-2.78%WednesdayBTO
DELTA AIR LINESDAL1.541.7-1.20%WednesdayBTO
BANK OF OZARKSOZRK0.740.660.00%WednesdayBTO
BLACKHAWK NETWKHAWK-0.170.0556.00%WednesdayAMC
CITIGROUP INCC1.31.254.96%ThursdayBTO
JPMORGAN CHASEJPM1.671.5815.92%ThursdayBTO
DOMINOS PIZZADPZ1.220.968.20%ThursdayBTO
LINDSAY CORPLNN0.650.7310.87%ThursdayBTO
EXFO INCEXFO0.060.04-200.00%ThursdayAMC
PNC FINL SVC CPPNC2.121.844.48%FridayBTO
BANK OF AMER CPBAC0.460.416.98%FridayBTO
WELLS FARGO-NEWWFC1.031.034.90%FridayBTO
FIRST REP BK SFFRC1.171-2.75%FridayBTO
DEL FRISCOS RSTDFRG-0.010.04-11.76%FridayBTO

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Normally $25 each - click below to receive one report FREE:

JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) - free report >>

Citigroup Inc. (C) - free report >>

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