Fuller Treacy Money - Which Way Now?

There is no denying that bank shares have declined significantly so it is logical to question whether they are close to a low. With dividends being eliminated, a rise in defaults inevitable, a moratorium on buybacks, and tight margins from low interest rates the big question is whether the bad news has been priced in.


Email of the day - on the outlook for banks 
Many thanks for your continuing high-quality service, exemplified by the comprehensive Income ITs spreadsheet you produced yesterday. It will be invaluable for Private Investors such as myself. On a separate topic, do you have any views on the banks in the light of the suspension of dividends? In particular, I see that HSBC shares are approaching chart support from 1997-98 and 2016.

Eoin Treacy's view 
Thank you for this question. There is no denying that bank shares have declined significantly so it is logical to question whether they are close to a low. With dividends being eliminated, a rise in defaults inevitable, a moratorium on buybacks, and tight margins from low interest rates the big question is whether the bad news has been priced in.

Which Way Now? 
Thanks to a subscriber for this report from Howard Marks which may be of interest. Here is a section:
Many companies went into this episode highly leveraged. Managements took advantage of the low interest rates and generous capital market to issue debt and some did stock buybacks, reducing their share count and increasing their earnings per shares (and perhaps executive compensation). The result of either or both is to increase the ratio of debt to equity. The more debt a company has relative to its equity, the higher the return on equity will be in good times…but also the lower the return on equity (or the larger the losses) in bad times, and the less likely it is to survive tough times. Corporate leverage complicates the issue of lost revenues and profits. Thus we expect to see rising defaults in the months ahead.
Likewise, in recent years, the generous capital market condition and the search for return in a low- interest-rate world caused the formation of leveraged investment entities. As with leveraged companies, debt increased their expected returns but also their vulnerability. Thus I believe we’re likely to see defaults on the part of leveraged entities, based on price markdowns, ratings downgrades and perhaps defaults on their portfolio assets: increased “haircuts” on the part of lenders (i.e. reduced amounts loaned against a dollar of collateral); and margin calls, in portfolio liquidations and forced selling.
In the Global Financial Crisis, leveraged investment vehicles like Collateralized Mortgage Obligations and Collateralized Debt Obligations melted down, bringing losses to the banks that held their junior debt and equity. The systemic importance of the banks necessitated their bailouts (the resentment of which contributed greatly to today’s populism). This time, leveraged securitizations are less pervasive in the financial system, and their risk capital wasn’t supplied by banks (thanks to the Volcker Rule), but mostly by non-bank lenders and funds. Thus I feel government bailouts are unlikely to be made available to them. (As an aside, it’s not that the people who structured their leveraged entities erred. The merely failed to include an episode like the current one among the scenarios they modelled. How could they? If every business decision had to made in contemplation of a pandemic, few deals would take place.

Eoin Treacy's view 
Corporate leverage has increased substantially over the last decade because low interest rates made balance sheet optimisation strategies a no brainer. What board would refuse the prospect of reducing the interest on existing debt by refinancing, and using the difference to reduce the share count? Afterall equity is an inherently more expensive form of financing. That was the logic in the early part of the cycle but refinancing was quickly exhausted. Companies then migrated to “maximising shareholder value” by inflating the share price with debt fuelled buybacks. Some companies are obviously much more guilty of this practice than others and have been among the biggest decliners so far.
Counting the Job Cuts at Tech Startups: Fully Charged 
This article by Sarah McBride for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:
The list is long, and probably doesn't come close to capturing the total job loss. In the last few weeks, there have been reported cuts at WeWork (250), Bird Rides Inc. (more than 400), ZipRecruiter Inc. (400 layoffs and furloughs) and direct-to-consumer clothing company Everlane (200 cuts and furloughs).

For now, the layoffs are affecting largely companies with a high cash-burn rate—like Bird—or companies that haven’t raised money in the last year or two—like ZipRecuiter—and thus lack a big cash cushion, or both. But many industry watchers expect the job cuts to spread as the lockdown continues. 

“This coronavirus pandemic is affecting very qualified people,” Lee said. His site also includes an option to add a documents so that laid-off employees and human resources departments can enter names and contact details, providing leads to anyone who wants use the list to make some hires. Lee added:

“It’s something that I thought might be a good service to tech.” The list may also be of service to Lee. His company Human Interest, which he co-founded with Paul Sawaya five years ago, announced on March 11 that it had raised $40 million in a round led by family office Oberndorf Enterprises LLC, bringing its total capital raised to $75 million. Now, the company is hiring, mostly engineers, Lee said. That makes it one of a rarified group of companies currently in a position to pick up talent, rather than shed workers. 

Some startups likely can put off layoffs for some time, given that venture capitalists invested $137 billion into startups last year, according to the National Venture Capital Association. But not all will want to.

Many firms, including Sequoia Capital, are urging their portfolio companies to conserve cash, and salaries are often among the biggest expenditures at startups.
Eoin Treacy's view 
Having a cash reserve is a nice-to-have during the good times. It’s essential during a crisis when burn rates need to be slowed in order to deal with the realisation earnings and profits are further away than ever.

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