U.S. Bank Stocks On Upgrade Watchlist

U.S. Bank Stocks On Upgrade Watch ListThe near-term picture for U.S. banks is especially uncertain.

Their bond spreads are soaring as their European peers are subjected to significant pressure. The majority of outstanding bank loans remain concentrated in commercial and residential real estate, and intensifying deflation pressures will inevitably raise questions about banks’ ability to manage through another economic downturn so soon after the last one. Profits are under pressure as headcount steadily climbs and banks remain under nearly constant political attack. Through it all, though, the TED spread has remained narrow, underscoring that perceived banking sector risk is much less than it was in 2008. Banks are better capitalized than they were before the crisis, as tangible equity and cash holdings have surged as a share of total assets. Bank deposits, the most stable source of funding, have grown sharply in recent months, while indicators of loan demand like the Fed Senior Loan Officer Survey are rising. And with the price/book ratio near its 2008 lows in relative terms, bank stocks have already discounted much of the bad earnings news in the pipeline.

Bottom line: Our U.S. Equity Strategy service is underweight the S&P bank index, partially in deference to the Euro area financial crisis. A resolution, coupled with an increase in economic confidence that would imply a boost in loan demand, would likely trigger an upgrade in our below-benchmark position.

Japan Is On The Mend

Japan Is On The Mend

The Japanese Economy is bouncing back, but rates will stay low.

The Bank Of Japan (BoJ) left rates unchanged last week and will stick with their asset purchase program.  The BoJ also extended support for financial institutions in disaster areas by another six months.  The economy has stabilized since the earthquake: Q2 real GDP growth (-0.5% QoQ) was an improvement on Q1 (-0.9% QoQ) and consumer prices are only mildly deflationary (-0.2% YoY).

Unemployment drifted down progressively this year from 4.9% to 4.3%, industrial production is now positive (0.6% YoY August) and the Tanken Business Conditions Survey rebounded.  Although Japan in on the mend, the economy will soon return to its previous sluggish trajectory.  Given the weak global economic environment we expect Japanese bond yields to remain low.  JGBs tend to outperform the global benchmark during economic expansions when global rates rise.  With developed market policy rates on hold for the foreseeable future, remain at most neutral JGBs within a global hedged bond portfolio.