First-quarter earnings for Europe’s major banks were decent and core underlying returns held up reasonably well. Excluding downside outliers, returns on tangible equity were clustered around the high single-digit to low double-digit mark.
Most of Europe’s large banks hit or beat analysts’ expectations. Where there were misses, the reasons were idiosyncratic rather than sector-wide, and the much-feared switch to IFRS 9 had only a modest impact on capital ratios.
Market observers are starting to buy the idea that the European banking sector is in a sweet spot, even while many of the region’s major banks work through restructuring and/or business optimisation. Once those programmes reach their end-points, assuming broadly successful execution, a reasonable assumption is that the picture will improve further, barring unforeseen circumstances.
“Business volumes are gradually picking up as banks cautiously ramp up lending, leading to higher volume-driven revenues. And even though net interest margins remain slim owing to European monetary policy effects, investors have some comfort around greater predictability of earnings and their risk components,” says Sam Theodore, team leader for bank ratings at Scope Ratings.
“Having done a lot of the heavy lifting around balance-sheet clean-up over the post-crisis years, European banks are, more than ever during the last decade, focused on repositioning for future growth. Beyond the revenue story, the European banking sector’s prudential metrics are in aggregate much more reassuring for investors in terms of capital strength, liquidity and balanced funding.”
Today’s banking culture is more conservative and risk-averse than it was a few years ago, and Scope notes a relative convergence of balance-sheet fundamentals, and to a lesser extent business models as well. With few exceptions, banks are now focusing on low-risk lending and financial services.
‘Hunter’ CEOs – those with a trading or investment banking background and a penchant for risk-taking – have largely being supplanted by ‘farmer’ CEOs focusing on stable growth and avoiding excessive risk. As well as bringing this approach to business-as-usual, European banks will be more cautious about engaging in transformational transactions, be they large-scale mergers or acquisitions. That stance is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.
Banks have undergone business simplification and are now clustered around a smaller set of core products for core clients for whom they can create value. They have also built slimmer geographical profiles ranged closer to home.
“Better financial fundamentals on the back of improving macro conditions, the positive effects of the stronger regulatory framework in terms of capital and liquidity, and more predictability around the behaviour of the banking industry are all positives for investors,” Theodore says.
To read the full commentary, click here
‘Act big’ now to save economy, worry about debt later, Yellen says in Treasury testimony
By David Lawder and Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Janet Yellen, U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for Treasury Secretary, urged lawmakers on Tuesday to “act big” on coronavirus relief spending, arguing that the economic benefits far outweigh the risks of a higher debt burden.
In more than three hours of confirmation hearing testimony, the former Federal Reserve chair laid out a vision of a more muscular Treasury that would act aggressively to reduce economic inequality, fight climate change and counter China’s unfair trade and subsidy practices.
Taxes on corporations and the wealthy will eventually need to rise to help finance Biden’s ambitious plans for investing in infrastructure, research and development, and for worker training to improve the U.S. economy’s competitiveness, she told members of the Senate Finance Committee.
But that would only come after reining in the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed over 400,000 in the United States, and the economic devastation it brought.
Yellen, who spoke by video link, said her task as Treasury chief will be to help Americans endure the final months of the pandemic as the population is vaccinated, and rebuild the economy to make it more competitive and create more prosperity and more jobs.
“Without further action we risk a longer, more painful recession now and longer-term scarring of the economy later,” she said.
Yellen said pandemic relief would take priority over tax increases, but corporations and the wealthy, which both benefited from 2017 Republican tax cuts “need to pay their fair share.”
She raised eyebrows of some senators and Wall Street when she said that Treasury would consider the possibility of taxing unrealized capital gains – through a “mark-to-market” mechanism – as well as other approaches to boost revenues.
She also that the value of the dollar should be determined by markets, a break from departing President Donald Trump’s desire for a weaker U.S. currency.
“The United States does not seek a weaker currency to gain competitive advantage and we should oppose attempts by other countries to do so,” she said.
Wall Street stocks rose on Tuesday in reaction to Yellen’s call for a hefty stimulus package, as well as to positive bank earnings updates. Oil prices also rose, while Treasury yields fell slightly on her comments that parts of the 2017 tax reform should be repealed.
Biden, who will be sworn into office on Wednesday, outlined a $1.9 trillion stimulus package proposal last week, saying bold investment was needed to jump-start the economy and accelerate the distribution of vaccines to bring the virus under control.
Asked what outlays would provide the biggest “bang for the buck,” Yellen said spending on public health and widespread vaccinations was the first step. Extended unemployment and nutrition aid, better known as food stamps, should be next, she said.
“Neither the president-elect, nor I, propose this relief package without an appreciation for the country’s debt burden. But right now, with interest rates at historic lows, the smartest thing we can do is act big,” Yellen said.
She said even though the amount of debt relative to the economy has risen, the interest burden – the amount the Treasury pays to service its debt – has not, due to lower interest rates. She said she will watch that metric closely as the economy recovers.
NEW CLIMATE POST AT TREASURY
Yellen also called climate change an “existential threat” to the U.S. economy and said she would appoint a senior official at Treasury to oversee the issue and assess systemic risks it poses to the financial system.
She added investment in clean technologies and electric vehicles was needed to cut carbon emissions, keep the U.S. economy competitive and provide good jobs for American workers.
Yellen said China was the most important strategic competitor of the United States and underscored the determination of the Biden administration to crack down on what she called China’s “abusive, unfair and illegal practices.”
Asked whether China had committed “genocide” in its treatment of Muslim Uighurs as the Trump administration declared in a last-minute proclamation, Yellen said China is “guilty of horrendous human rights abuses, yes.”
Biden’s transition team urged the Senate to move swiftly to confirm Yellen. Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, who will lead the Finance Committee after Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday, said he would push for a confirmation vote on Thursday. Republican Senator Mike Crapo said he would work towards an “expeditious” confirmation for Yellen.
She also received the endorsement of all former Treasury secretaries, from George Schultz to Jack Lew, who urged senators in a letter to swiftly confirm Yellen’s nomination to avoid “setting back recovery efforts.” A spokeswoman for Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who steps down on Wednesday, did not respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting by David Lawder, Andrea Shalal, Ann Saphir and David Shepardson; Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Heather Timmons, Andrea Ricci and Kim Coghill)
Open Banking: the perfect pandemic tool – Equifax comments
With COVID-19 related financial fallout set to dominate the credit landscape in 2021, Dan Weaver, Open Banking Expert at Equifax UK, believes Open Banking solutions can provide lenders clarity in a sea of uncertainty:
“With lockdown once again in place across the UK, it’s clear 2021 will be a year of extreme financial flux. While the vaccine roll-out programme will provide an economic boost and eventual easing of restrictions, forbearance measures, such as mortgage holidays and the government furlough scheme, will be wound down. This will lead to income shocks for many, and the potential for a nationwide surge in personal debt.
“With the third anniversary of its implementation today (13 January), Open Banking is entering a new mature phase of its development. The initiative’s credentials are now widely established, offering creditors the perfect pandemic tool to assess the most accurate picture of an individual’s finances.
“Consider someone who has just returned to the workforce after being made redundant or placed on furlough. Traditional credit bureau or legacy data alone would not always provide potential lenders with the most up-to-date information on their current financial circumstances and ability to repay credit at the point of application. Open Banking platforms, through customer consent, pull live data directly from the user’s bank account, allowing creditors to make an informed, responsible and fair decision about their current affordability on the most recent data available – a game-changing factor amid such widespread financial upheaval and rapid change in people’s circumstances.
“Open Banking is a tool for our times and it’s vital more credit providers, not just big banks and finance but utilities, insurance, auto and telcos companies, accelerate its adoption. Throughout our society and economy in the past year, we’ve witnessed feats of great innovation, executed at rapid speed. In 2021, we need to apply this transformational energy to the Open Banking landscape, slashing the time it takes for creditors to test protocol and fully set up their solutions.
“Three years after its arrival, we’re seeing Open Banking platforms improve digital, real-time income verification rates by more than 25% * – which is no mean feat. If an industry-wide, mass acceleration strategy was successfully achieved in 2021, it would prove extremely valuable and timely, and lead to better customer and creditor outcomes throughout the credit space.”
Over a quarter of Brits now have an account with a digital-only bank
The number of Brits with a digital-only bank account has gone up by a percentage increase of 16%
Almost 1 in 6 Brits (17%) plan to open a digital bank account over the next 5 years
The top reason for opening an account was the convenience of banking online for the third year running
However, 16% of traditional banking customers who aren’t planning to switch said their bank had been helpful during the COVID pandemic
Currently over a quarter of Brits (27%) say they have at least one bank account with a digital-only bank, according to personal finance comparison site finder.com.
This is a percentage increase of 16% from last year when 23% of Brits said they had an account with a digital bank. It is also over 3 times the amount of Brits who had one in January 2019 (9%).
Finder’s 2019 research found that 24% of Brits intended to have a digital-only account by 2024. However with 27% now having an account, Brits have gone digital 3 years earlier than expected.
A further 17% of Brits intend to join them over the next 5 years, with 11% planning to do so over the next year. This could mean that 44% of Brits could have an account with a digital bank by 2026. If this percentage were applied to the UK adult population, it would equal almost 23 million people.
The top reason for opening an account continues to be convenience that digital-only banks provide, for the third year running (26%). The second most common reason was that users needed an additional account and setting up a digital account seemed to be the easiest option (20%). Customers also wanted to transfer money more easily (19%), making this the third biggest priority.
People wanting a trendy card is still driving signups as well, with 1 in 10 (10%) existing, or future, customers citing this as a reason to get an account.
Despite the increase in digital-only banking customers, the numbers who aren’t considering one have actually risen. Last year, 23% of respondents said they aren’t considering a digital-only bank account, but this has risen substantially to 42% in the latest survey.
This is likely a result of increased customer loyalty, 58% of those without a digital bank account said they felt as though their incumbent bank had treated them well and therefore had no desire to open a digital bank account. Additionally, 16% felt as though their incumbent bank had performed particularly well during the pandemic.
Over a third (36%) of those without a digital bank account said they had not decided to bank with digital providers because they preferred to be able to speak to someone in branch.
Digital banks are still most popular with younger generations, 46% of gen Z say they currently have a digital bank account, with a further 28% intending to get one over the next 5 years. This would mean that by 2026 just under three quarters of gen Z (73%) could have a digital bank account.
To see the research in full visit: https://www.finder.com/uk/digital-banking-adoption
Commenting on the findings, Matt Boyle, banking specialist at finder.com said:
“This research shows that digital-only banks are here to stay, with the number of users in the UK rising for 3 years straight. On top of this, Starling and Revolut announced this year that they have made a profit for the first time, really demonstrating that digital banks are starting to become a serious part of the banking furniture.
“The pandemic has also played a role in the rapid digitalisation of the banking industry, with those who had never experienced online banking having no other choice but to take their finances online. It seems that Brits are starting to realise the convenience that can come with digital banking and this is reflected in our research.”
Finder commissioned Censuswide on 6 to 8 January 2021 to carry out a nationally representative survey of adults aged 18+. A total of 1,671 people were questioned throughout Great Britain, with representative quotas for gender, age and region
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