Bears bite but banks expected to post hefty profits

The banks are expected to post big annual profits again for 2014 despite investors dumping them ahead of the Reserve Bank’s decision to keep the cash rate at 2.5 per cent on Tuesday afternoon.

There could be some long-term justifications for the sell-off. Goldman Sachs is forecasting that the recovery in lending growth, up 5.4 per cent compared to a year ago, will “stall” in the next 12 months.

Higher capital imposts are also more likely for the bigger banks in the years ahead.

Bank of Queensland will kick off the main round of bank annual reports on October 9, with analyst forecasts tipping a 20 per cent rise in cash profit for the year to about $300 million and a 13 per cent rise in earnings and dividends a share.

Australian Prudential Regulation Authority figures show BoQ’s mortgage lending grew about 2 per cent between August last year and August this year. This is well behind system housing growth of 6.7 per cent. But BoQ will get a big boost from $440 million in business loans and deposits it bought with its acquisition of Investec Bank (Australia), completed in late July.

According to APRA figures, BoQ’s business loan book has grown about 5.8 per cent in the year to August, compared to total business lending growth of 3.2 per cent.

This was also aided by new customer wins outside Queensland. The company is also expected to give an update on the search for a replacement for chief executive Stuart Grimshaw, who is expected to take up a new job at pay day lender EZCorp in Texas at the end of October.

But the focus will be on the slower growing big banks, three of which – ANZ Bank, NAB and Westpac – report in late October and early November, and whether they can continue their big shareholder returns of recent years.

Investors are worried the end is nigh for big profits and dividends at the big banks, with the Murray financial system inquiry expected to recommend the majors raise more capital against their mortgages.

There is also the spectre of moves by the Reserve Bank and APRA to dampen soaring house prices in Sydney and Melbourne with targeted measures against investors. However, Deutsche Bank analysts James Freeman and Andrew Triggs expect the impact of any such measures on the big banks to be “limited”.

Goldman Sachs analysts Andrew Lyons and Jien Goh expect NAB to lift its common equity tier one capital level to the top of its target range of between 8.75 and 9.25 per cent due to woes in its British division. But it’s likely too early for any real impact from these possibilities. Once again, the investment bank expects rock bottom arrears rates will continue to keep a lid on impairments, which in turn bolsters earnings.

Consensus estimates have NAB as the worst performer, with about 6 per cent growth in cash profits for 2014 to about $6.2 billion and earnings per share up about 2.7 per cent to $2.60. Its British business continues to be a drag, with provisions likely to hit earnings. New chief executive Andrew Thorburn is expected to give an update on the listing of its US business Great Western Bancorp and a possible sale of MLC’s life insurance arm.

NAB has been gaining ground in mortgages in Australia, but has been losing business borrowers to Westpac and ANZ. But Goldman Sachs believes NAB is beginning to claw those back, with its total lending growth expected to be about 3.5 per cent for the second half of 2014, ahead of ANZ on about 2.5 per cent.

ANZ is expected to report better earnings, however, with a 9 per cent rise in cash profits to just over $7 billion for 2014, according to consensus estimates. Westpac is expected to report a similar rise in cash profit after tax of about 8 per cent to $7.6 billion. Westpac is expected to pay out about $2.42 a share in dividends for the year and ANZ about $2.53.

Investors should also be happy with Macquarie Group, which has achieved huge mortgage growth in the year to August of 66 per cent, according to APRA, and has indicated better than expected fee revenue. On October 31, Goldman Sachs expects it to report a 28 per cent rise in its cash profit for its first half 2015 result to $642 million and a 37 per cent rise in dividends a share to $1.35.

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