By Niket Nishant
(Reuters) -U.S. regional bank stocks recovered slightly on Friday after a two-day plunge sparked by investor concerns that New York Community Bancorp (NYSE:)’s dismal earnings signaled broader problems in the sector.
The KBW Regional Banking Index gained 0.2%, snapping a three-day losing streak.
NYCB shares rose 5% on Friday after sinking 45% over the past two sessions. On Wednesday, the lender cut its dividend and posted a surprise loss on commercial real estate (CRE) loans.
Fitch on Friday downgraded the Long-Term Issuer Default Ratings (IDRs) for the lender and its subsidiary Flagstar Bank to BBB- from BBB, citing the CRE loan impairment and increase in loan loss provisions. Its ratings outlook on NYCB is negative.
“Additionally, actions, including higher levels of on-balance sheet liquidity requiring higher wholesale funding, will also negatively affect the bank’s profitability in 2024,” the ratings agency added.
Raymond James analysts who participated in a webinar hosted with NYCB’s management “came away comforted” by the bank’s steady deposits, the analysts wrote in a note on Friday.
“Given deposit stability, the recent reserve build, still strong capital, and proactive cooperation by management to achieve new regulatory requirements, we believe the stock appears attractive for more aggressive investors with a longer term view,” the brokerage said.
Shares of Valley National Bancorp (NASDAQ:), M&T Bank (NYSE:) and some other mid-size lenders also rose on Friday, boosting the view among some investors that NYCB’s problems and broader stock declines would be limited.
“A lot of the banks have been proactive in dealing with their loan issues, and their credit quality doesn’t seem to be deteriorating as much as people thought in general,” said Tom Plumb, CEO of Plumb Funds.
NYCB’s share price would recover “as the market continues to appreciate the value-enhancing actions” the bank had taken, a NYCB spokesperson said on Thursday.
Over the past two sessions, short sellers targeting shares of regional banks were up about $1.4 billion in paper profits, according to data and analytics company Ortex.
REAL ESTATE CONCERNS
NYCB on Wednesday boosted its provisions for credit losses by 345%, partly allocated to its CRE portfolio. The company, which is a major CRE lender in New York, said it took a hit on two separate loans.
“Part of NYCB’s 45% two-day plunge was due to the bank not being diversified,” said CFRA analyst Alexander Yokum. “NYCB is overweight both commercial real estate office and multi-family loans and thus recent deterioration in these areas has had an outsized impact on the company.”
The bank’s disclosure reignited some investor worries that other lenders may take losses on CRE as building owners grapple with high interest rates and lingering office vacancies following the pandemic.
The Federal Reserve this week held rates steady while Fed Chair Jerome Powell said inflation remained too high, prompting traders to reprice the expected first rate cut from March and into May, according to futures data. Several banks have warned that elevated borrowing costs could lead to more borrowers defaulting on their loans this year.
Meanwhile, shares of Japan’s Aozora Bank slumped to a three-year low in Tokyo after it made a large provision for potential losses on U.S. office loans.
Some investors said data released on Friday showing that U.S. job growth surged last month at well above the pre-pandemic pace and wage growth accelerated was a positive for lenders.
“For commercial banks, this should improve the outlook. There’s a lot of worry about defaults rising, but if the labor market is still humming, defaults shouldn’t rise too quickly,” said Brian Jacobsen, chief economist at Annex Wealth Management.
Brendan Coughlin, head of consumer banking at Citizens Financial (NYSE:) Group, said the broader banking industry is resilient despite the stock declines this week.
“The market has found confidence that not all regional banks are created equal,” Coughlin said in an interview on Thursday. “While there’s a little bit of a pullback on the banking sector in the last two days, it’s certainly very modest. And I would say, I don’t expect any contagion whatsoever from this across the banking ecosystem.”
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