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Industry Report Card: U.S. Regional Banks' Second-Quarter Profits Held Up Despite Declining Net Interest Margins

Industry Report Card: U.S. Regional Banks' Second-Quarter Profits Held Up Despite Declining Net Interest Margins

U.S. regional banks rated by S&P Global Ratings generally reported strong operating results for the second quarter of 2019--in line with our expectations. In aggregate, net income improved from the previous quarter and year over year, largely due to strong noninterest revenue and robust loan growth. Noninterest revenue also benefited from higher mortgage revenues, buttressed further by higher service charges, credit card fees, and wealth management revenues. Operating revenue growth remained strong, highlighting resiliency and stability among regional banks despite the lower and flattening yield curve, and increasing pressures on net interest margins (NIMs).

Notwithstanding some isolated credit events, regional banks generally posted strong asset quality metrics amid a benign credit environment and continued U.S. economic expansion. Second-quarter results also benefited from banks' continued focus on operating efficiencies and the low corporate tax rates. However, capital ratios continued to decline as expected, given elevated capital returns to shareholders.

Despite strong operating results, earnings growth slowed relative to the prior year, mainly as the benefits of lower tax rates decelerate and interest rate expectations are less favorable. For the remainder of the year, we expect earnings to improve modestly on mid-single-digit loan growth and compressed NIMs, offset by some support from noninterest revenues and disciplined expense management. We expect the lower and relatively flat yield curve to continue to pressure yields on loans and securities portfolios, thereby hurting NIMs and earnings growth. Positively, the mid-cycle adjustment to Fed policy and lower market interest rates should boost asset quality and perhaps lengthen the credit cycle.

That said, with key profitability metrics remaining resilient and banking industry fundamentals intact, we believe that regional banks will continue to post satisfactory results in the second half of 2019 and in 2020.

Table 1

Key Expectations For Regional Banks
Net interest income Moderate earnings growth driven by mid-single-digit loan growth partially offset by NIM contraction, as the full-year benefits from 2017 tax cuts and higher interest rates fade
Noninterest income Modest fee income growth aided by higher mortgage volumes and rising wealth management fees, though partially offset by subdued capital markets activity
Provisions Provisions for loan losses likely to rise over time commensurate with loan growth and as credit costs gradually normalize, and an expected change in reserving methodology to add to reserves, particularly for banks with a higher percentage of consumer loans
Expenses Expected to stay controlled given stable headcount, conservative growth in compensation costs, and savings from branch closures, though partially offset by higher spending on technology initiatives
Net interest margins (NIMs) Continued pressure on NIMs, given the Fed's more accommodative monetary policy, a flat yield curve, and most banks’ asset sensitivity
Loan growth Moderate loan growth in the mid-single digits, driven by growth across commercial and industrial, commercial real estate, and, to a lesser extent, consumer loan categories 
Deposits Deposit growth nearly comparable to loan growth, though with a shift toward interest-bearing deposits and away from non-interest-bearing deposits and a higher reliance on wholesale funding for banks that have difficulty growing deposits as fast as loans
Asset quality Still strong credit quality, though we expect some normalization over time, and pockets of risk, particularly in asset classes like commercial and industrial (leveraged loans ), commercial real estate, non-prime auto, credit cards, and unsecured personal loans
Capital Elevated capital returns (as a result of higher dividends and share repurchases) likely leading to slightly lower capital ratios over time
Tax rates Low tax rates to remain supportive of earnings, but incrementally less than in 2018
Merger and acquisition (M&A) activity Increasing M&A activity, particularly in-market, fueled by growth aspirations, search for scale benefits, and cost synergies amid keen competition for deposits and higher tech spending

Regional banks remain active in mergers and acquisitions (M&A) as management teams factor in a more open regulatory environment for mergers. We see M&A activity gaining traction in terms of deal counts within the banking industry, though the deal value was slightly lower in the second quarter compared with the previous year.

In the second quarter, rated regional banks Investors Bancorp and People’s United announced deals (see "People's United Financial Inc. Outlook Revised To Negative On Plans To Acquire United Financial; 'BBB+' Rating Affirmed"), and we think others continue to consider merger opportunities. Other factors that could lead to a pickup in M&A include potential in-market cost synergies, elevated competition for core deposits, and banks' desires to deploy excess capital and increase returns to shareholders (see "Optimism And Growth Aspirations Are Fueling An Increase In U.S. Bank Mergers And Acquisitions Despite A Maturing Credit Cycle," Oct. 15, 2018).

Earnings Benefited From Good Loan Growth And Higher Noninterest Income Despite NIM Compression

In the aggregate, regional banks' earnings remained good in the second quarter. Profitability metrics remain solid, as reflected by elevated ROAA of 1.34% and ROAE of 10.93%, as the majority of regional banks reported an increase in profits from the prior quarter and year over year. Noninterest revenue benefited from higher mortgage volumes, both purchase and refinance, aided by seasonal trends and lower rates.

At the same time, most regional banks reported higher service charges, credit card fees, and wealth management revenues. Few nonrecurring items, including M&A expenses, technology costs, and charges related to branch consolidation, slightly affected earnings. And certain regional banks started to build loan reserves, likely due to loan growth and the impact from the expected implementation of CECL early next year.

Chart 1


Chart 2


NIMs, the tailwind of banks' earnings in recent years, declined in the second quarter, from both the prior quarter and second-quarter 2018, as higher deposit costs squeezed margins (see chart 3). Both small and large regional banks reported NIM contraction. We expect further contraction in NIMs throughout the rest of this year given the Fed's most recent rate cut, the first in many years, and the potential for additional rate cuts given elevated trade concerns and generally lower interest rates globally. NIM contraction and the flattening yield curve could further pressure yields on loans and securities portfolios.

We also expect banks to continue to compete aggressively for deposits. Even with the Fed's mid-cycle adjustment to monetary policy to spur economic growth, we expect deposit costs to continue to rise because there is a lag effect of passing on previous rate hikes to retail depositors. Indeed, in past cycles, deposit costs often continued to rise for some period after the Fed ceased tightening.

Chart 3


We expect somewhat higher noninterest income generation among regional banks in the coming quarters based on growth in corporate and retail banking, credit cards, insurance, and trust and custody businesses. While less impactful for regional banks, capital markets revenues could be hurt by lower customer volumes or reduced business confidence. Additionally, volatility in global markets and interest rate fluctuations could weigh on asset and wealth management revenues.

Since the start of the year, the 10-year and 30-year U.S. Treasury bond yields, which serve as the primary benchmark for residential mortgage pricing, have flattened considerably. If mortgage rates were to continue to decline, we expect mortgage revenue at regional banks could increase further as refinancing activity and mortgage origination volumes pick up.

Efficiency ratios continued to improve on modest compensation growth and rationalization of branch networks. However, investments in technology and digital infrastructure partially offset this.

Asset Quality Has Been A Tailwind, But It's Likely As Good As It Gets

Asset quality remained strong in the second quarter, as highlighted by the decline in the average reported nonperforming assets (NPA) ratio both quarter over quarter and year over year (see chart 4). Borrowers continued to benefit from relatively benign credit conditions, including low unemployment and good U.S. economic growth.

Nevertheless, some of the rated regional banks, like Texas Capital Bancshares, Cadence Bancorporation, First Horizon National Corp., and Zions Bancorporation N.A., reported slightly higher credit losses, attributable to one-off credit issues. While not indicative of any widespread credit cycle downturn, we expect NCOs could gradually rise to more normal levels in the coming quarters from exceptionally benign levels.

Loan loss provisions rose year over year--we think due to moderate loan growth. However, reserves to gross loans were flat both quarter over quarter and year over year and continue to be at decade lows, which we view as unsustainable, given the maturity of the credit cycle (see chart 5). That said, the Fed's more accommodative monetary policy and lower market interest rates should benefit asset quality for the remainder of 2019.

Chart 4


Regional banks' median loan growth relative to the first quarter and last year was in mid-single digits, mostly in line with our expectations. Loan growth was generally broad-based across categories, with marked growth in commercial real estate (CRE) and commercial and industrial (C&I), as well as some growth in consumer categories like auto and credit card, primarily due to seasonality and higher consumer consumption and spending in the second quarter.

We think competition remains intense among regional banks for safer and higher-quality borrowers. While we do not a see broad loosening of underwriting standards, a prolonged period of low interest rates could conceal latent risks in certain asset classes, such as CRE, C&I (notably leveraged lending), and autos.

Positively, we're observing banks tightening their lending policies across portfolios. The Fed's August Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey on Bank Lending Practices (SLOOS) confirmed similar trends. The SLOOS report noted that banks generally tightened underwriting standards across all three major CRE loan categories--construction and land development loans, nonfarm nonresidential loans, and multifamily loans. For consumer loans, banks reported tightened standards on credit card loans relative to the previous quarter. On the other hand, banks that reported slight easing in underwriting standards for their C&I portfolios cited weaker demand and competition as factors in their decision.

Chart 5


Capital Ratios Likely Will Continue To Gradually Decline Amid Elevated Payouts And CECL

In the second quarter, regional banks' regulatory capital ratios declined somewhat compared with the previous quarters (see chart 6), primarily because of continued high capital returns to shareholders, as well as, in some cases, accelerated share buybacks. Higher payouts led the median common equity Tier 1 ratio for regional banks to decline by roughly 14 basis points (bps) and the median Tier 1 ratio to decline by 7 bps from last quarter. We expect that common equity capital ratios will likely decline somewhat faster than total capital ratios given the continued issuance of preferred shares. Some regional banks such as BB&T Corp., M&T Bank, and Synovus Financial Corp. issued preferred securities in the second quarter.

We think the regional banks that are no longer subject to the CCAR (Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review) annual regulatory stress testing and enhanced supervision could become more aggressive in distributing capital via common dividends and stock buybacks. Nevertheless, our review of a sample of banks that did not undergo the stress test in 2019 but provided capital payout data showed a median payout ratio of 96%, versus 126% for the median of banks that underwent stress tests. We hypothesize the reason for the decline in payout ratios may be that these banks are already near their targeted capital ratio levels (see "Most Banks Breezed Through The Fed's Stress Test--And Can Now Return Significant Capital To Shareholders"). Of the large regionals participating in CCAR this year, none received objections by the Fed to their capital return plans.

Regional banks we rate are preparing to adopt Current Expected Credit Loss (CECL) accounting rules on Jan. 1, 2020. We believe that the change could have a negative impact on the capital ratios of some U.S. regional banks, notably those with a higher percentage of consumer loans and those with longer-duration loan portfolios (see "Delving Deeper Into The New Loss-Accounting Rules And Their Effect On U.S. Financial Institutions"). That said, we expect CECL to be generally ratings neutral as higher reserves counteract some of the potential hits to capital in 2020.

Chart 6


Funding And Liquidity Remain Generally Adequate

Most regional banks' funding remained adequate, despite rising deposit costs. Funding ratios have deteriorated slightly in recent quarters as loan growth has outpaced deposit growth. On average, loan-to-deposit ratios were roughly 91%, slightly worse than in first-quarter 2019 and consistent with the gradual worsening in recent years (see chart 7). Despite this, we expect funding ratios to remain generally neutral to most regional bank ratings.

The majority of regional banks reported growth in total deposits in the second quarter despite varied changes in the mix of interest-bearing and non-interest-bearing deposits. Some regional banks experienced growth in noninterest deposits due to their deepening customer relationships while others reported a continued shift toward interest-bearing deposits and away from non-interest-bearing deposits.

Regional banks' deposit mix could evolve depending on their funding requirements, the direction of short-term rates, and competition. Typically, banks with a higher proportion of deposits indexed to Fed funds and those with a higher percentage of commercial depositors could benefit somewhat from rate cuts because these deposits tend to reprice quickly. For most banks, however, we expect deposit costs to continue to lag changes in asset yields following the Fed's mid-cycle adjustment. Banks with high growth aspirations or somewhat weaker funding may need to increase their reliance on wholesale funding.

Chart 7


On the liquidity front, both on-balance-sheet and contingent liquidity remains satisfactory for most U.S. regional banks. On average, investment securities portfolios--one of the main sources of asset liquidity to regional banks--declined marginally in the second quarter. This is primarily the result of most regional banks increasingly repositioning their securities portfolios to counter interest rate risk. In addition, we think certain regional banks could sell their securities portfolios that are in excess of their liquidity coverage ratio (LCR) requirements to fund loan growth.

Some larger regional banks have made strategic decisions to grow national online deposit platforms to expand their deposit-gathering capabilities and diversify their funding sources. We think these platforms may help certain banks increase their deposits, although, in some cases, net benefits may be limited as deposits move from existing channels into newer ones.

List Of Regional Banks

Values and ratios in all of the charts are averages for certain rated U.S. regional banks.

Table 2

List Of Regional Banks
Large regional banks Small regional banks

BB&T Corp.

Associated Banc Corp.

Citizens Financial Group

BancorpSouth Bank

Comerica Inc.

BOK Financial Corp.

Fifth Third Bancorp

CIT Group

First Republic Bank

Commerce Bancshares Inc.

Huntington Bancshares Inc.

Cullen/Frost Bankers Inc.


East West Bancorp Inc.

M&T Bank Corp.

First-Citizens Bank & Trust Co.

New York Community Bancorp Inc.

First Commonwealth Financial Corp. 

Regions Financial Corp.

First Horizon National Corp.

SunTrust Banks Inc.

First Midwest Bancorp Inc.

SVB Financial Group

Hancock Whitney Corp.

The PNC Financial Services Group Inc.


U.S. Bancorp

Investors Bancorp Inc.

Zions Bancorporation, N.A.

People's United Financial Inc.

Popular Inc.

S&T Bank

SLM Corp.

Synovus Financial Corp.

TCF Financial Corp.

Texas Capital Bancshares Inc.

Trustmark Corp.

UMB Financial Corp.

Umpqua Holdings Corp.

Valley National Bancorp

Webster Financial Corp.

Western Alliance Bank

Recent Rating Activity

Table 3

Recent Rating/Outlook/CreditWatch Actions*
Company To From Date Developments

TCF Financial Corp.

BBB-/Positive/A-3 -- 1-Aug-19 S&P Global Ratings assigned 'BBB-/A-3' ratings on the new TCF Financial Corp. (formerly Chemical Financial Corp.) and affirmed its 'BBB/A-2' ratings on TCF National Bank. At the same time, we withdrew our ratings on the legacy TCF Financial Corp. The outlook is positive, reflecting our view that the potential benefits of the completed merger could more than offset the near-term integration and operational risks. In our view, this transformational merger will broaden the consolidated entity's product, geographic, and revenue diversification.

People's United Financial Inc.

BBB+/Negative/-- BBB+/Stable/-- 16-Jul-19 S&P Global Ratings revised its outlook on People's United Financial Inc. and its main bank, People’s United Bank N.A., to negative from stable. At the same time, we affirmed the 'BBB+' issuer credit rating on People's and the 'A-/A-2' issuer credit ratings on People's United Bank. The outlook revision reflects that People's may be elevating its risk profile to a degree that is not commensurate with the rating as a result of its agreement to acquire Hartford, Connecticut-based United Financial Bancorp Inc. (United), the holding company for United Bank, with $7.3 billion in assets. We also believe that this acquisition indicates a somewhat more aggressive acquisition strategy for People's than we previously expected.

BancorpSouth Bank

BBB/Positive/A-2 BBB/Stable/A-2 11-Jul-19 S&P Global Ratings revised its outlook on BancorpSouth Bank to positive from stable. At the same time, we affirmed the 'BBB' long-term and 'A-2' short-term issuer credit ratings. The positive outlook primarily reflects the potential that the bank's capital ratios could rebound to a level we view as strong, provided earnings remain good, credit quality remains excellent, and the bank continues to focus primarily on organic growth. While less likely, the positive outlook also reflects some potential that the bank could further improve its competitive market position and revenue diversification while maintaining conservative business and financial policies.

OFG Bancorp

B/Stable/- B/Positive/- 2-Jul-19 S&P Global Ratings revised the outlook on OFG Bancorp and Oriental Bank to stable from positive and affirmed its 'B' and 'BB-' long-term issuer credit ratings on OFG Bancorp and Oriental Bank, respectively, on the announced acquisition of Scotiabank de Puerto Rico. The outlook revision to stable reflects the substantial decline in pro forma capital ratios and the operational risks of integrating an acquisition of this size, partially balanced by our expectation of improved loan diversification and likely improved funding ratios.

BOK Financial Corp.

BBB+/Stable/-- BBB+/Negative/-- 28-Jun-19 S&P Global Ratings revised the outlook to stable, primarily reflecting the bank's maintenance of strong credit quality and profitability through multiple energy and economic cycles over three decades, and recent further improvements in credit performance. The stable outlook on BOK incorporates our expectation that, over the next two years, asset quality will continue to be strong and the company's earnings capacity will continue to benefit from a substantial contribution from noninterest revenues. We also expect that BOK's capital ratios will rise modestly and remain at least comparable to regional bank peers' given the company's high energy loan exposures.

Cadence Bancorporation

BB+/Stable/-- NR 18-Jun-19 S&P Global Ratings assigned a 'BB+' long-term issuer credit rating to Cadence Bancorporation and a 'BBB-' long-term issuer credit rating to Cadence Bank N.A. The outlook on the ratings is stable.

FirstBank Puerto Rico

BB-/Positive/-- B+/Stable/-- 16-Apr-19 The upgrade mainly reflects our view that the bank's expected write-downs will not be as high as we had originally expected. While there is still potential for some incremental nonaccrual buildup, we expect the losses to be less severe than previously projected, as economic conditions improve. The positive outlook reflects the possibility that we could raise our ratings on the bank in the next 12 months if we were to become confident that economic conditions have stabilized such that the bank's (RAC) ratio remains sustainably above 15%, even after factoring in potential losses and expected capital deployment toward additional strategic priorities. The positive outlook also acknowledges that the bank's funding has improved meaningfully, with a lower reliance on wholesale funding and brokered deposits, benefiting from the influx of liquidity on the island.

OFG Bancorp

B/Positive/- B/Negative/- 16-Apr-19 The positive outlook on OFG Bancorp reflects the likelihood that we may raise the ratings over the next 12 months if economic conditions remain stable and we become confident that its RAC ratio (before diversification) is likely to remain above 15% on a sustainable basis. We expect the bank's financial performance to improve based on the influx of relief and insurance funds following Hurricane Maria, despite continuing economic and infrastructure challenges on the island and the commonwealth government's austerity measures.

Popular Inc.

BB-/Positive/B BB-/Negative/B 16-Apr-19 The outlook revision to positive on Popular Inc. reflects our view that the rating could rise within the next 12 months if we believe that the bank will maintain its higher capital ratios or if NPLs decline meaningfully. We think the improvements in the bank's financial performance aided by the inflow of relief and insurance funds could more than offset the various economic and infrastructure challenges on the island and the austerity measures that the commonwealth will continue to implement.

Bank of the West

A/Stable/A-1 A-/Positive/A-2 5-Apr-19 S&P Global Ratings raised the ratings on Bank of the West to 'A/A-1' from 'A-/A-2'. The outlook is stable. The upgrade was in unison with the upgrade of its parent, BNP Paribas, due to increased additional loss-absorbing capacity (ALAC).

First-Citizens Bank & Trust Co.

NR BBB+/Stable/A-2 3-Apr-19 S&P Global Ratings withdrew its long- and short-term issuer credit ratings on First-Citizens Bank & Trust Co. at the company's request. At the time of withdrawal, the outlook was stable.
*Through Aug. 8, 2019.

Contact Information

Table 4

Contact Information
Analyst Location Telephone E-mail
Barbara Duberstein New York (1) 212-438-5656
Catherine C. Mattson New York (1) 212-438-7392
Diogenes Mejia New York (1) 212-438-0145
E. Robert Hansen, CFA New York (1) 212-438-7402
Erik Oja New York (1) 212-438-4314
Lidia Parfeniuk Toronto (1) 416-507-2517
Matthew T. Carroll New York (1) 212-438-3112
Rian Pressman, CFA New York (1) 212-438-2574
Shameer M. Bandeally Toronto (1) 416-507-3230
Stuart Plesser New York (1) 212-438-6870

Related Research

  • Rating Component Scores For U.S., Canadian, And Bermudian Banks (June 2019), June 28, 2019
  • Farewell (Regional Bank) LCR, We Hardly Knew Ye: What The Liquidity Coverage Ratio Tells Us And What Could Be Lost, June 17, 2019
  • Comparative Statistics: U.S. Banks (April 2019), April 11, 2019
  • U.S. Bank Outlook 2019: Still Sunny, But The Good Times May Be Behind Us, Jan. 16, 2019
  • Optimism And Growth Aspirations Are Fueling An Increase In U.S. Bank Mergers And Acquisitions Despite A Maturing Credit Cycle, Oct. 15, 2018

This report does not constitute a rating action.

Primary Credit Analyst:E.Robert Hansen, CFA, New York (1) 212-438-7402;
Secondary Contact:Devi Aurora, New York (1) 212-438-3055;
Research Contributor:Srivikram Hariharan, CRISIL Global Analytical Center, an S&P affiliate, Mumbai

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