Earnings season is open: bet on banks

NYSE:C   Citigroup, Inc
Next week starts the earnings season in the US (the second quarter of 2019). Leading US stock indices currently show historical highs, but analysts are quite skeptical about the upcoming financial results from leading companies.

According to a survey conducted by S&P Global Market Intelligence, it is expected that almost all 11 sectors of the S&P 500 index will show a decline in EPS ( earnings per share ratio). For example, in the communication Services, as expected, EPS will decrease by more than 40% (expected change in Q2 EPS from year- earlier quarter), Materials sector will lose more than 20%, and even Information Technology sector is expected to show a decrease in EPS by more than 4%.

Explanations for this are as follows: a strong dollar lowers commodity prices and damages companies from the Materials sector; the trade wars between China and the US accompanied by US attacks on Huawei have led to problems for companies involved in Communication Services and Information Technology. Another problem is inflated capitalization (during a decade, American companies spent billions to buy their own shares, which greatly inflated the value of their stocks).

On the whole, the US stock market looks like a typical bubble, inside which, instead of air, is cheap money, which is the result of the ultra-soft monetary policy of the Fed since 2008-2009. Do not forget also about zero and negative rates in Japan and Europe, which redirected capital flows from the European and Japanese markets to the US stock market.

As a result, stock prices have rocketed to the sky, and it is very difficult to increase EPS further.

Almost the only sector of the S&P 500 index that is expected to show positive EPS change is Financials. So if you are planning to buy in the US stock market during the earnings period, then you should first pay attention to banks and financial companies. And since they are traditionally the first to report, then you need to act here and now. For example, Citigroup Inc . will report on Monday July 15, even before the market opens. JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo The Goldman Sachs will announce their financial results on Tuesday, and Bank Of America, U.S. Bancorp ( USB ), The Bank of New York Mellon Corporation ( BK ) - on Wednesday.

What is the secret of Financials? Why do they show an increase in EPS , when everyone else goes under the water?

The monetary policy of the Fed has become the main driver of the financial success of banks in the United States. Until now, the increase in interest rates contributed to the growth of banks' profitability and, as a consequence, the growth of their financial indicators. The recent statements by the Fed about expected interest rates cut, in theory, should have led to negative expectations and a fall in bank margins. Instead these expectations have led to a significant decline in long-term rates, which has meant a jump in mortgage loan refinancing activity, which means more fee income for the banks.

Another argument in favor of banks in the current earnings season is the fact that bank stocks typically trade at significantly lower valuations to earnings estimates than that of the S&P 500 . What is more interesting and surprising, the discount over the past five years has increased. Five years ago, the S&P 500 banks as a group traded at a weighted forward price-to-earnings ratio that was 72% of the valuation for the full index. Now the group trades at a forward P/E valuation 60% of the full index. That is, bank stocks, in fact, are traded at a discount , and therefore, relative to the market as a whole, they are undervalued.

In addition, according to Warren Koontz (head of value equity at Jennison Associates - manages $176 billion for private clients and mutual funds), the US banking sector is “in the best shape they have been in for 30 years in terms of balance sheets, the management of the companies and the capital they have to deploy”.

In general, the purchase of US bank stocks is now a kind of investment “combo”: in addition to the arguments listed above, they also give dividend payouts with “double-digit rates” growth and provide significant share buybacks. A company in another industry with those characteristics would be priced far higher than the banks are now.

And the last thing. According to analysts (the results of the FactSet survey), Wells Fargo & Co. has the greatest potential for EPS growth. ( EPS is expected to grow by 20%), Bank of America Corp. (growth by 13%), Citigroup Inc . (an increase of 13%) and JPMorgan Chase & Co (10%). So stocks of these banks should be bought first.

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