Bank shares showed a notable decline over this week when investor sentiment weakened due to a series of reports that indicated persisting economic issues in the U.S. as well as in Europe. Anxiety levels were already rising since last week with the two-month extension on various tax-hikes and spending cuts (the ‘fiscal cliff’) nearing its March 1st deadline.
With the Republicans and Democrats yet to reach a consensus on the necessary steps required, a worse-than-expected unemployment report for the country coupled with lower economic indicators for Europe made the bigger picture gloomier for investors. And in the midst of this, the minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee’s (FOMC) meeting held on Wednesday spooked investors by hinting at a possible discontinuation of the quantitative-easing program. The only thing that prevented shares from tanking over the week was some optimism from positive movement in economic indicators like the housing prices.
The KBW Bank Index has lost nearly 4% over trading through Thursday this week.
Below are some significant events pertaining to major banks that were witnessed over this week.
Citigroup & Capital One
Early this week, Capital One Financial (NYSE:COF) announced its decision to sell a portfolio of Best Buy (NYSE:BBY), private label and co-branded credit card accounts to Citigroup (NYSE:C). Capital One had obtained the Best Buy’s business as a part of its acquisition of HSBC’s U.S. credit card business in late 2011, and the move is the latest by the card-focused bank to end partnerships with companies that do not share its strategic goals. On the other hand, this acquisition marks a complete reversal of policy by Citi Retail Services – Citigroup’s store-branded card business – which was earmarked for sale as part of Citi Holdings in 2011. The $7-billion portfolio is expected to change hands by the third quarter of the year.
You can read more about how this transaction in our article Citi Snaps Up Capital One’s Best Buy Credit Card Portfolio
The country’s biggest banks are finding it extremely difficult to loan out money to prospective customers, even as deposits continue to swell. The double whammy banks have been witnessing for some months now is a result of the economic uncertainty, which is making people bulk up their savings while remaining cautious about taking on any debt. As a result, the average loan-to-deposit ratio for the country’s eight biggest commercial banks fell to a five-year low of 84% in Q4 2012.  In comparison, the loan-to-deposit ratio was 101% in 2007.
The biggest U.S. bank, JPMorgan (NYSE:JPM), fares the worst, with its loan-to-deposit ratio shrinking to 61% at the end of last year.
Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) seems to be in the process of shedding its ‘conservative-banking’ shell with the bank reportedly keen on growing its private-equity business despite impending restrictions from the Volcker Rule.  The bank which boasts of being responsible for originating one in every three mortgages in the country intends to invest its own money along with that from some of its investors in seed companies – avoiding being held back by the Volcker Rule’s 3% limit on such investments by terming the business ‘merchant banking’ which is exempt under the rule as it stands now.Notes:
- JPMorgan Leads U.S. Banks Lending Least Deposits in 5 Years, Bloomberg, Feb 20 2013 [↩]
- Wells Fargo ramps up private equity despite Volcker Rule, Reuters, Feb 21 2013 [↩]