Bank profits, credit risk and loan pricing for 2008 – part 4

Published: March 10, 2009 by Guest Contributor

By: Tom Hannagan

Part 4

Let’s dig a bit deeper into why Peer Group 1’s margins didn’t improve. We see two possible reasons: Total deposit balances declined from 72 percent of average assets to 70 percent. This means that a larger amount had to be borrowed to fund their assets. Secondly, non-interest bearing demand deposits declined from 4.85 percent of average assets to 4.24 percent. So, fewer deposit balances relative to total asset size, along with a lower proportion of interest-cost-free deposits, appear to have made the difference.

Fee income
Non-interest income, again as a percent of average total assets, was down to 1.12 percent from 1.23 percent in 2007. This was a decline of 9 percent. For Peer Group 1 (PG1), fees have also been steadily declining relative to asset size, down from 1.49 percent of assets in 2005. A lot of fee income is deposit based and largely based on non-interest bearing deposits. So, the declining interest-free balances, as a percent of total assets, are a source of pressure on fee income and have a negative impact on net interest margins.

Operating expenses
Operating expenses constituted more bad news as they increased from 2.63 percent to 2.77 percent of average assets. Most of the large scale cost-cutting didn’t get started early enough to favorably impact this number for last year. Historically, this metric has moved down, irregularly, as the size of the largest banks has grown. This number stood at 2.54 percent in 2006, for instance. We saw increase in both 2007 and again in 2008.

As a result of the decline in margins and the larger percentage decline in fee income, while operating costs increased, the Peer Group 1 efficiency ratio lost ground from 57.71 percent in 2007 up to 63.70 percent in 2008. This 10 percent increase is a move to the bad. It means every dollar in gross revenue [net interest income + fee income] cost them almost 64 cents in administrative expenses in 2008. This metric averaged 55 cents in 2005/2006.

The total impact of changes in margin performance, fee income, operating expenses and the 2008 increase in provision expense of 87 basis points, we arrive at a total decline in pre-tax operating income of 1.23 percent on total assets. That is a total decline of 80 percent from the pre-tax performance in 2007 of 1.53 percent pre-tax ROA to the 2008 result for the group of only .30 percent pre-tax ROA.

It would appear that banks have not been utilizing pricing enough credit risk into their loan rates.  This would be further confirmed if you compared bank loan rates to the historic risk spreads and absolute rates that the market currently has priced into both investment grade and below-investment-grade corporate bonds. These spreads have decreased some very recently, but it is predicted that more credit risk is present than bank lending rates would indicate.