‘Things are going to get worse’ for Aussie banks

Shane Oliver equity trustees chris haynes banks

24 May 2023
| By James Mitchell |
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A leading Australian banking analyst has accepted that lenders will soon see a rise in bad debts as the full impact of rate hikes begins to hit borrowers.

Chris Haynes, head of Australian equities at Equity Trustees Asset Management, was cautious about the domestic banking sector. He said that while Australian lenders were not experiencing the same levels of stress as their US counterparts, the outlook was still bleak.

“The banks have all reported very solid first-half earnings. Profits rose, dividends increased and excess capital was generated,” Haynes told Money Management.

However, in the coming months, he believed most of the positives will reverse and become headwinds.

“After all those rate rises, there was hardly any sign of distress in any of the lending books. But we know from here things are going to get worse,” Haynes said. “Bad debts will rise.”
Hayne, who has almost 30 years of portfolio management experience, conceded that it was difficult to be bullish.

“Will it be a soft or hard landing? Things could get quite a bit worse so it makes sense to be cautious. We do know for certain that the purple patch of rising margins has now finished. Margins are in decline. We have deposit competition and mortgage competition at the same time. Cost pressures seem to be more under control but margins and bad debts will make things difficult.”

In terms of value, Haynes said that aside from CBA, Aussie banks’ stocks were looking cheap and may become cheaper.

Meanwhile, US regional banks faced major challenges after making a macro bet that interest rates would remain low. They acquired large amounts of fixed rate liquid securities but didn’t hedge them. They then got caught when rates rose at perhaps the fastest pace in history, causing a crisis of confidence and bank runs.

AMP’s chief economist, Dr Shane Oliver, recently warned that the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) should be more concerned about the US banking crisis than it appeared to be.

“A big factor in central bank thinking should be ongoing US banking stress,” Oliver said.

“While the takeover of First Republic Bank by JP Morgan went smoothly with depositors protected, it and the prior ‘rescues’ leave big issues unresolved and festering away,” he said.

“First, it’s unclear how the US government can pay for the deposit protections etc running the risk that Congress will get involved. Second, and far more importantly, it’s adding pressure on other banks to be more cautious in their lending to avoid going the same way.”

Frank Danieli, head of credit investments and lending at MA Financial, believed the current environment had created a number of openings for alternative funders.

“This creates selective opportunities where otherwise high-quality borrowers and companies cannot access financing, which credit funds and institutional financiers can step in to solve,” Danieli said.

“This is enabling lenders to earn better returns on loans with good collateral, asset-backing for downside protection and robust debt terms.”

However, recent jobs data could suggest that the Australian economy was already headed towards a recession.

The unemployment rate rose to 3.7 per cent in April.

“Our concern is that the jobs market and inflation are lagging indicators and the RBA is not paying enough attention to the way interest rate hikes hit the economy with a lag. This, in turn, runs the rising risk of knocking the economy into a recession,” Oliver said.

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