Commercial loan growth momentum continues at leading U.S. banks

In spite of the continued economic uncertainty, U.S. banks continue to enjoy strong growth in commercial lending. A study of the 2Q12 financial results of 14 leading U.S. banks revealed that 11 grew average commercial loans by double-digit rates. In addition, 11 banks had higher year-over-year growth rates in 2Q12 than in 1Q12.

13 of the 14 banks reported growth in commercial loan portfolios between 1Q12 and 2Q12.

Looking at specific banks:

  • Commercial loan growth was led by PNC, although it should be recognized that PNC completed the acquisition of RBC Bank in 1Q12, which significantly skews the data.  PNC recorded above-average growth rates for financial services and health care loan portfolios.
  • U.S. Bank had the second-largest y/y growth rate, at 24%, led by a 52% rise in its specialized industries portfolio.
  • Comerica increased its average commercial loan portfolio 20% y/y, driven by a 46% rise in its specialty lending portfolio. (Over the past year, Comerica grew its energy loan portfolio by 68% and its tech and life sciences portfolio by 36%.)
  • KeyBank’s average commercial, financial and agricultural loan portfolio grew 19% y/y. KeyBank reported that its commercial loan utilization rate has been increasing in recent quarters, from 43.4% in 2Q11 and 46.9% in 1Q12 to 47.3% in 2Q12.
  • Chase grew commercial banking average loans 16% y/y, driven by a 42% rise in its corporate client banking loan portfolio (which covers clients with $500 million to $2 billion in annual revenue).
  • Bank of America was the only bank to report a quarterly decline in its average commercial loan portfolio (-2.7%). In addition, it had the second-lowest y/y growth rate (of 6.1%).

Most of the banks are reported improvements in commercial loan charge-off rates.  However, yields on commercial loans continue to fall. All 12 of the banks reporting commercial loan yield data had y/y declines, but it’s important to note that 4 of the 12 (PNC, Wells Fargo, BB&T and M&T) reported an increase in commercial loan yields between 1Q12 and 2Q12.

Banks pull back on marketing spend in 2Q12

A scan of second quarter 2012 marketing spend data for leading U.S. banks revealed that most reported year-on-year declines.  These declines have been driven by both general economic uncertainty, as well as the fact that many banks have recently put ambitious cost-cutting initiatives in place.  Of the 12 banks studied, only four reported y/y increases in spending.  And Capital One’s spend excluding the impact of the HSBC card portfolio acquisition was also lower than in 2Q11.

The largest declines among the banks studied were at SunTrust and Bank of America.

  • SunTrust reduced marketing and customer development spending 30% y/y in 2Q12.  Its spend for the first half of 2012 was also down 30% from the same period in 2011.  In the presentation of its financials, the bank provided an update on its PPG Expense Program, which it expects to generate $300 million in annualized savings by the end of 2013.
  • Bank of America is following a similar a pattern, with marketing spend down 20% y/y in 2Q12, and down 19% y/y in the first half of 2012.  Like SunTrust, Bank of America devoted a section of its earnings presentation to discussing its New BAC cost reduction program, which has a goal of generating $5 billion in annualized cost savings by the end of 2014.

For other banks, the declines in 2Q12 follow significant recent growth in marketing spend.

  • JPMorgan Chase’s marketing spend in 2Q12 was down 14% y/y.  This follows a rise in 28% spending in 2011.
  • Citigroup reduced its marketing budget 6% in 2Q12, following a jump of 40% in 2011.

For some banks, marketing spend patterns can be related to timing of campaigns.

  • U.S. Bancorp’s marketing and business development spend was down 11%.  However, looking at the first half of the year, spend is up 22% over the same period in 2011).
  • Capital One actually grew spending 2% over the same period in 2011, and it reported that spending in the second half of 2012 would increase, due to the timing of some marketing campaigns.
  • KeyBank increased marketing spend 6%, which it attributed to a spring home equity lending campaign.

Finally, American Express reduced spend 3% y/y, but (at $773 million) its marketing and promotion expense still represented 10% of net revenues, a much higher percentage than at other leading financial institutions.  American Express’s goal is for its marketing and promotion expense to be around 9% of revenues.

Quarterly Card Issuer Financials Reveal Positive (and some Negative) Trends

All of the main U.S. credit card issuers have now reported second quarter 2011 financials, which reveal some interesting trends:

Volumes: In recent quarters, card purchase volumes have grown significantly as issuers have focused attention on positioning cards as spending rather than lending tools. Most issuers continued to grow volumes in 2Q12, although in some cases, the rate of growth was lower than in recent quarters. Wells Fargo (+15%), U.S. Bank (+13%), Chase (+12%) and Capital One (+11%, excluding the impact of the HSBC portfolio acquisition) all reported double-digit year-on-year spending increases. American Express, which has typically led the industry in volume growth, reported a y/y rise in spending of 9%, down from 12% in 1Q12. And both Bank of America and Citibank reported no growth in purchase volumes. Issuers will continue to push volume growth in the coming quarters, as they continue to seek to take payments share from cash and checks.

Outstandings: In recent years, issuers reacted to the financial crisis by significantly deleveraging their credit card portfolios. Now there are signs that this process has bottomed out and a number of issuers are growing outstandings. The largest portfolios continue to decline, with Bank of America (-10%), Citibank (-3%) and Chase (-1%) all reporting year-on-year declines in end-of-period outstandings. On the other hand, banks with smaller portfolios reported y/y growth, including SunTrust (+39%), PNC (+10%), Wells Fargo (+7%), U.S. Bank and Fifth Third (both +5%). In addition, American Express (+5%) and Discover (+4%) both grew outstandings. The prospects for outstandings growth in the industry in general in the quarters will be dependent on general economic conditions, as well as the extent to which issuers want to push loan growth in order to grow revenues.

Charge-Off and Delinquency Rates: As issuers reduced outstandings following the financial crisis in 2008, they also set about tackling charge-offs, which spiked spectacularly in 2008 and 2009. Charge-off rates have declined significantly over the past two years, and in many cases are now below normalized levels. There has been a widespread expectation in recent quarters that the sharp declines in charge-off rates would bottom out; however, the most recent quarter continued the pattern of charge-off rate declines. All of the main issuers reduced charge-off rates by more than 100 bps y/y, and only one main issuer (U.S. Bank) reported a q/q increase in its charge-off rate. American Express, Discover and Capital One reported charge-off rates below 3% in 2Q12. Bank of America remains the issuer with the highest charge-off rate (at 5.27% in 2Q12), but it is notable that this rate is down from levels of more than 14% in 2009. There is an expectation that charge-offs will continue to decline in the coming quarter, given that delinquency rates (which are an indicator of future charge-offs) are also continuing to decline. Some issuers are anticipating that credit quality indices will bottom out or even grow, in particular if the issuers relax underwriting standards to grow outstandings. So, a number of leading issuers are increasing their provision for loan losses.

Revenue: This remains the big negative for issuers, with downward pressure on both net interest income (for those issuers who are continuing to experience outstandings declines) and noninterest income (from the ongoing impact of the CARD Act, which makes it more difficult to generate fee income). Issuers with lower outstandings (Bank of America, Citibank and Chase) reported revenue declines, but issuers who grew outstandings in 2Q12 managed to grow revenues. American Express increased revenue 5%, with net interest income rising 6%. Discover grew total revenues 6%, with a 4% decline in noninterest income more than offset by a 10% growth in net interest income. Prospects for revenue growth in the coming quarters will be very much dependent on the ability to grow outstandings, given the limited scope for generating fee income.