Understanding Bank Stocks Amid Economic Downturns: An In-Depth Analysis

In mid-March 2023, the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank triggered a significant downturn in the financial markets, with most banking stocks and bank-based exchange-traded funds (ETFs) experiencing sharp declines in stock prices. This situation led to fears of a 2008 banking crisis-like scenario. Despite the risks, some investors are interested in bank stocks during downturns. This article provides a detailed examination of how to research and evaluate bank stocks during such challenging times, with a particular focus on key financial ratios.

The Unique Challenges Posed by Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank

It’s important to note that both Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank had distinct lending practices, such as providing loans to tech start-ups and cryptocurrency companies, which made their businesses inherently riskier. This highlights the importance of thoroughly studying any asset or security before making an investment decision, including bank stocks. While most banks share the common purpose of accepting deposits and lending money, some may engage in additional, riskier services.

Investing in Bank Stocks During a Downturn

The 2008 global financial crisis led to banks de-risking their balance sheets, with increased regulatory requirements promoting greater liquidity and capital buffers to protect customers during defaults. However, as the financial environment stabilised over the ensuing decade, banks began taking on more risks, such as venturing into cryptocurrencies. This raises the question: should investors seek out quality bank stocks during a downturn? 

A Step-by-Step Approach to Evaluating Bank Stocks in an Economic Downturn

  1. Analyse the Bank’s Management Quality: The quality of a bank’s management can significantly impact its performance. Therefore, it’s crucial to consider management’s track record, their strategic vision, and their ability to deliver on that vision. This can involve looking at management’s past decisions, how well they’ve handled crises, and their plans for the future.
  2. Examine Individual Bank Financials: After understanding the current economic state and deciding to invest in bank stocks, thoroughly evaluate the financials of potential investments. This may involve examining the income statement and balance sheet to assess the bank’s overall health, focusing on key metrics such as net interest margins, provisions for loan losses, non-performing assets, balance sheet management, and capital adequacy ratios.
  3. Conduct Comparative Ratio Analysis with Peers: Once you’ve shortlisted a few banks of interest, perform a comparative peer analysis. Key ratios to consider include the price/earnings per share (P/E), price/book value (P/B), loan/deposit ratio (LDR) for the quality of the bank, and return on equity (ROE) ratio from the investor’s perspective. 

To conduct a thorough analysis of bank stocks, investors should pay close attention to the following key financial ratios:

  1. Price/Earnings (P/E) Ratio: The P/E ratio compares a bank’s stock price to its earnings per share (EPS) to determine whether a stock is undervalued or overvalued relative to its historical ratios and peers. A lower P/E ratio may indicate that a stock is undervalued, while a higher P/E ratio could suggest overvaluation. It’s essential to compare a bank’s P/E ratio to those of its industry peers and historical averages to gain a complete understanding of its relative valuation.
  2. Price/Book (P/B) Ratio: The P/B ratio compares a bank’s stock price to its book value per share (BVPS), which represents the net asset value of a company (assets minus liabilities). A lower P/B ratio may indicate an undervalued stock, while a higher P/B ratio could suggest overvaluation. Like the P/E ratio, it’s important to compare a bank’s P/B ratio with those of its competitors and historical averages to assess its relative value accurately.
  3. Loan/Deposit Ratio (LDR): The LDR is a crucial metric for banks, as it compares the amount of loans a bank has issued to its total deposits. A higher LDR implies that a bank is taking on greater risks and may not have enough liquidity to cover unforeseen circumstances. Conversely, a lower LDR indicates that a bank is more conservative in its lending practices. Investors should examine a bank’s LDR in conjunction with its peers and historical trends to gain insight into its risk profile.
  4. Return on Equity (ROE) Ratio: The ROE ratio is a profitability metric that compares a bank’s net income to its shareholders’ equity. It measures how effectively a bank is using its equity to generate profits. A higher ROE ratio indicates greater profitability and efficiency, while a lower ROE ratio suggests weaker performance. Investors should compare a bank’s ROE to those of its competitors and industry averages to gauge its relative performance effectively.
  5. Net Interest Margin (NIM): NIM is the difference between the interest income a bank generates from loans and the interest it pays on deposits and other sources of funding, expressed as a percentage. A higher NIM indicates that a bank is earning more from its loans than it’s paying out in interest, which can lead to increased profitability. Investors should examine a bank’s NIM in relation to its peers and historical trends to better understand its earning potential.
  6. Efficiency Ratio: The efficiency ratio measures a bank’s non-interest expenses (such as operating costs) as a percentage of its total revenue. A lower efficiency ratio indicates that a bank is operating more efficiently and generating more revenue relative to its expenses, while a higher efficiency ratio suggests the opposite. Comparing a bank’s efficiency ratio with its competitors and historical averages can help investors assess its operational effectiveness.
  7. Tier 1 Capital Ratio: This ratio measures a bank’s core capital (such as common equity and retained earnings) relative to its risk-weighted assets. It’s a key metric for assessing a bank’s financial strength and resilience, as higher Tier 1 capital ratios indicate a stronger capital buffer to absorb potential losses. Investors should compare a bank’s Tier 1 capital ratio with regulatory requirements and industry benchmarks to evaluate its financial stability.
  8. Non-Performing Loan (NPL) Ratio: The NPL ratio measures the proportion of a bank’s loans that are either in default or close to default, expressed as a percentage of its total loans. A higher NPL ratio indicates a higher level of credit risk within a bank’s loan portfolio, while a lower NPL ratio suggests a lower level of risk.

In conclusion, navigating the complex landscape of bank stocks during an economic downturn can be a challenging endeavour. However, by closely examining the macroeconomic environment, scrutinising individual banks’ financials, and conducting a comprehensive comparative ratio analysis, investors can make informed decisions about which bank stocks to consider for their portfolios.

Ivailo Chaushev

Chief Market Analyst at Deltastock


Risk warning:

This article is for information purposes only. It does not post a buy or sell recommendation for any of the financial instruments herein analysed. 

Deltastock AD assumes no responsibility for errors, inaccuracies or omissions in these materials, nor shall it be liable for damages arising out of any person’s reliance upon the information on this page. 

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