Peeling the layers of today’s pricing

By: John Robertson

I began this blog series asking the question “How can banks offer such low rates?” Exploring the relationship of pricing in an environment where we have a normalized. I outlined a simplistic view of loan pricing as:

+ Interest Income

+ Non-Interest Income

  • Cost of Funds
  • Non-Interest Expense
  • Risk Expense

= Income before Tax

Along those lines, I outlined how perplexing it is to think at some of these current levels, banks could possibly make any money. I suggested these offerings must be lost leaders with the anticipation of more business in the future or possibly, additional deposits to maintain a hold on the relationship over time. Or, I shudder to think, banks could be short funding the loans with the excess cash on their balance sheets. I did stumble across another possibility while proving out an old theory which was very revealing.

The old theory stated by a professor many years ago was “Margins will continue to narrow…. Forever”. We’ve certainly seen that in the consumer world. In pursuit of proof to this theory I went to the trusty UBPR and looked at the net interest margin results from 2011 until today for two peer groups (insured commercial banks from $300 million to $1 billion and insured commercial banks greater the $3 billion). What I found was, in fact, margins have narrowed anywhere from 10 to 20 basis points for those two groups during that span even though non-interest expense stayed relatively flat. Not wanting to stop there, I started looking at one of the biggest players individually and found an interesting difference in their C&I portfolio. Their non-interest expense number was comparable to the others as well as their cost of funds but the swing component was non-interest income.  One line item on the UPBR’s income statement is Overhead (i.e. non-interest expense) minus non-interest income (NII). This bank had a strategic advantage when pricing there loans due to their fee income generation capabilities. They are not just looking at spread but contribution as well to ensure they meet their stated goals. So why do banks hesitate to ask for a fee if a customer wants a certain rate? Someone seems to have figured it out.

Your thoughts?