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LatAm Financial Institutions Monitor 2Q2020: COVID-19 Hits Banks' Bottom Lines

(Editor's Note: The Latin America Financial Institutions Monitor series will be published twice a year.)

Banks in Latin America are facing negative rating momentum because of significant effects from the coronavirus pandemic, oil price shock, and market volatility. However, S&P Global Ratings believes mitigating factors will help banks in the region to navigate this turbulent scenario:

  • The generally high liquidity levels and low dependence on external and wholesale funding, because retail deposits provide the bulk of Latin American financial institutions' funding sources;
  • The healthy margins and provisioning coverage that provide cushion during times of economic stress;
  • The substantial support and flexibility that banking systems will receive from public authorities to entice them to continue lending to households and corporates, whether in the form of liquidity or credit guarantees, and relief on minimum regulatory capital and liquidity requirements; and
  • The likelihood in our base-case scenario of a 3% rebound in Latin America's GDP in 2021 after a sharp contraction of 5% this year (GDP weighted forecast includes the five largest economies), even if this contraction and ensuing recovery varies considerably between countries.

Forbearance Will Support Banking Systems

Latin American public authorities, similar to other regions, view their banking systems as a conduit for economic and monetary policies, aiming to reduce the immediate impact of the economic slowdown associated with measures to contain the coronavirus. They have implemented a broad array of measures to incentivize banks to continue lending and show flexibility to struggling customers. In return, banking systems are receiving substantial liquidity support, regulations are being relaxed temporarily, and banks are renegotiating loans that are current without marking them as nonperforming loans (NPLs). As a result, we expect the full impact of the deterioration on banks' balance sheets to be spread between 2020 and 2021. Nevertheless, some banking systems in the region have less latitude to provide support than others.

Banks' Creditworthiness Remains Exposed To The Economy

  • We forecast Latin American GDP to contract by a little more than 5% this year, then expanding by slightly more than 3% in 2021.
  • We expect the second quarter of 2020 to be the worst for Latin American economies as strict social distancing policies continue, We predict the quarter-over-quarter (q/q) annualized contraction in the second quarter will be roughly 3x as severe as the worst quarter during the 2008 global financial crisis.
  • We also predict an uneven recovery across Latin America, with stronger recoveries in Chile and Peru, where more effective COVID-19 containment policies and robust economic responses will help more rapidly repair the damage to the labor market and investment dynamics.
  • On the other hand, we forecast weaker recovery in Mexico, where pre-existing economic weakness, delays in virus containment measures that risk prolonging the health crisis, and limited economic policy responses will mean it will take longer to repair the harm done to labor market and investment dynamics.

Asset Quality To Dip, But Full Impact Will Be Delayed

Because of the economic slump, we expect a shock in asset quality. We predict this in particular for sensitive economic sectors such as airlines, oil and gas, metals and mining, forest products, and leisure sectors, and especially from small to midsize enterprises (SMEs) and self-employed workers who have limited financial flexibility to cope with a sudden stop in cash flow. In this context, the sharpest asset quality deterioration will most likely occur in Argentina. Banks were already operating in a very tough economy, and the government actions to contain the pandemic's impact are mainly directed to the low-income segment.

Deposit Funding and Low External Dependence Proves Helpful

In our view, major banks in Latin America can cope with a temporary disruption in capital markets. Retail deposits provide the bulk of their funding, net external debt is very low, and regulators have introduced timely measures to boost banks' liquidity. We have also seen that large banks are benefitting from customers' flight to quality, given that investors and depositors are moving away from capital markets and funds, while parking their savings in domestic banks. On the other hand, smaller banks and financial companies don't benefit from this trend, but, for example, Brazil's central bank has also implemented measures to support smaller players. Although Chilean banks have a higher proportion of wholesale deposits, pension funds' investment in local bonds provides stability.

High Profitability Provides Cushion

We believe banks' profitability will certainly weaken, but from sound levels prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pressure will come mainly from higher provisions, while we also expect lower fees and tighter margins. In this context, financial institutions will probably try to increase the spreads to mitigate risk, but it will be hard for them to do so given the difficult circumstances.

Latin American banks are used to operating under volatile economic and political conditions. Although bottom-line profits are thick and have good buffers, the impact to banks will depend on the duration and intensity of the pandemic's effects on the economy.

We expect the next few quarters to show significant differences between banks in the way they book provisions against future credit losses. The strongest and more conservative banks are likely to be faster in recognizing weaker exposures and provisioning for future potential problems that would be revealed later for others. We're likely to see great inconsistency in the way banks report their bad debt in 2020. Because of this, we may consider less traditional metrics to assess the impact.

Low Credit Growth For The Region

We expect credit growth in Latin America in 2020 to be in the low single digits. Credit demand from the corporate sector is increasing due to the liquidity need by corporates affected by the social distancing policies, while consumer and mortgage lending will partly offset this effect. We expect banks to require additional guarantees, including those offered by the government in order to mitigate risk. In 2021, as economic conditions improve, we expect credit growth to follow a similar path.

Ratings Actions Due To COVID-19

Since the pandemic spread across the region, we have seen--as we expected--a surge in rating actions. Charts 1 and 2 show the number of downgrades and outlook changes for the region due to COVID-19 up to May 8.

Chart 1


Chart 2


On March 27, we downgraded 21 Mexican financial institutions following a similar action on the sovereign and increasing risks for the sector. This is because we expect a pronounced hit to the economy following the combined shocks of COVID-19--in Mexico itself and in the U.S.--and lower global oil prices, worsening the already weak trend in GDP growth for 2020-2022.

In Brazil, we revised the outlook on 15 financial institutions to stable from positive, following the same action on the sovereign. This action reflected the impact on fiscal and economic expectations after the COVID-19 shock, and our assumption of slower-than-expected progress to pass and implement reforms.

In Chile, we revised the outlook on 11 financial services companies to negative from stable. This change incorporated the increased stress in the system after dealing with social unrest in the country in the last quarter of 2019, and now the impact from COVID-19.

In Argentina, we recently downgraded all rated banks to 'CCC+' from 'B-' (except one that we already rated 'CCC'), reflecting the likelihood of the sovereign imposing restrictions on domestic entities to access the U.S. dollars needed to meet their debt service obligations.

In Colombia and Panama, we revised the outlooks on three and two financial institutions, respectively, to negative from stable following the rating action on their respective sovereigns. The action on Colombia reflects the recent drop in oil prices, compounded by the negative global impact of COVID-19, which has weakened the country's external profile through lower export earnings and a wider current account deficit, and heightened concerns about its economic growth prospects. The outlook revision on Panama incorporates the pressures on its economic, fiscal, and debt trajectories, exacerbated by the pandemic. As a result, the government's fiscal deficit will increase in 2020, and its debt will rise over the next few years.

The other rating actions can be seen in the selected research updates section below.

Key Banking Sector Risks In LATAM

The table below presents our views about the key risks and risk trends for banking sectors in Latin American countries where we rate banks. For more detailed information, please refer to the latest Banking Industry Country Risk Assessment (BICRA) on a given country.

According to our methodology, BICRAs fall into groups from '1' to '10', ranging from what we view as the lowest-risk banking systems (group '1') to the highest-risk (group '10').


Selected Research

Selected commentaries:
Selected research updates:
Economic, sovereign, and other research:

BICRA Changes

Over the past six months, we made the following changes to our Banking Industry Country Risk Assessments (BICRAs):


We have revised our BICRA for Mexico to group '5' from group '4', and our economic risk score to '6' from '5'. In our view, Mexican banks now face higher economic risks due to the continued weakening economy, which has led to lower economic resilience. This is illustrated by the economic slump of 2019, which eroded the private sector's business and investment confidence, and by the continued worsening of the energy sector. Lower economic resilience is also demonstrated by the even weaker economic prospects for 2020, exacerbated by the global turbulence resulting from COVID-19 (as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, we now forecast a contraction in the U.S. in 2020, acting as a drag on Mexico) and plummeting oil prices (damaging the government-owned energy company Petroleos Mexicanos [PEMEX] and increasing the government's contingent liabilities).

We have also revised our economic risk trend for Mexico to stable from negative. This is because although we expect weak economic conditions to persist in 2020, we don't expect asset quality metrics to significantly deteriorate (including NPAs and credit losses) and anticipate profitability to remain adequate (despite lower interest rates and potentially higher reserve requirements), based on banks' conservative growth strategies and lending practices. In our opinion, the current economic risk level already captures a potential deterioration in these metrics. However, we'll remain alert to a potential worsening in the trajectory of Mexican banks' asset quality metrics and profitability, which, if significantly above our expectations in the next 12-18 months, could lead us to revise Mexico's BICRA economic risk trend to negative from stable.


We have revised our economic risk trend for Chile to negative from stable. This reflects the combined impact of the social unrest and the economic shock from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in significant global volatility and capital outflows from emerging markets, including sharp declines in commodity prices and depreciation of the local currencies. As a result, conditions for corporate and individual borrowers are rapidly deteriorating and exerting pressures on the Chilean financial entities' asset quality and profitability. This is occurring amid the Chilean corporate sector's higher leverage and lower individual income (measured as GDP per capita) than those of BICRA peers. Additionally, a scenario of much longer period of restrictive measures on businesses and social distancing could slash the economy's resilience to external shocks. We will continue to monitor the latest developments in reforming the constitution. Authorities are taking actions to support the economy and credit flow, including social and tax measures, extension of loans, and additional capital infusion into Banco Estado to allow the latter to play a countercyclical role in the economy.


We have revised our economic risk score for Bolivia to '9' from '8'. The pandemic has increased risks in the Bolivian financial system because the economic lockdown will likely hurt credit growth and pressure the credit losses, profitability, and capital metrics of domestic banks in the following months. Moreover, although the banking system has lowered its exposure to foreign currency-denominated loans and deposits, we still believe the deterioration in the country's external conditions could impair the stability in the domestic financial industry.

With the aforementioned change to the economic risk score, we have also revised our economic risk trend for Bolivia to stable from negative.


We have revised our economic risk trend for Jamaica to negative from stable. The pandemic has increased risks in the Jamaican financial system because the economic lockdown will likely hurt credit growth; and pressure credit losses, profitability, and capital metrics of domestic banks in the following months.

Trinidad and Tobago

We have revised our economic risk trend for Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) to negative from stable. We see increasing challenges to banks amid the recession and the coronavirus outbreak. It's currently uncertain when the spread of COVID-19 will cease because it's still at an early stage. It's also unclear the extent of the economic strain it will cause, because there are no empirical rules to estimate how social distancing could affect key economic variables. T&T's government has deemed banking services as essential during the quarantines that have recently started, while other business activities are shut down. Still, we expect pressure on banks' asset quality to surge and business growth to slow as the coronavirus outbreak hits trade and lower oil prices contribute to a deeper economic contraction. As the pandemic disrupts production and the plunge in consumption interrupts the payment chain, some companies and individual borrowers will have difficulty with debt repayment. Therefore, we expect T&T's banking system to shift from a slight expansionary phase into a correction phase, but with a limited impact up to this point because we expect credit losses to remain manageable. Banks were able to contain the damage to asset quality in past recession years amid weak energy prices but relatively low unemployment and inflation rates. Nevertheless, the economy has been contracting since 2015, which we believe could impair companies' finances, while the rising unemployment could hinder individual borrowers' ability to service their loans.

Chart 3


Top Latin American Banks

We based the selection criteria on the number of banks we rate in those countries relative to the region, ranked by total loans.

Table 2

Ratings Component Scores: Top LATAM Banks
Institution Operating company long-term ICR/Outlook Anchor Business position Capital and earnings Risk position Funding and liquidity SACP/GCP Type of support Number of notches support Additional factor adjustment
Banco De Galicia Y Buenos Aires S.A.U. CCC+/Negative b+ Adequate Weak Adequate Avg/Adequate b+ None 0 -3
Banco Patagonia S.A. CCC+/Negative b+ Adequate Moderate Adequate Avg/Adequate b+ None 0 -3
Itau Unibanco Holding S.A. BB-/Stable bb+ Very strong Adequate Adequate Avg/Adequate bbb None 0 (4)
Banco do Brasil S.A. BB-/Stable bb+ Very strong Moderate Adequate Above Avg/Adequate bbb None 0 (4)
Banco Bradesco S.A. BB-/Stable bb+ Very strong Weak Adequate Avg/Adequate bbb- None 0 -3
Caixa Economica Federal BB-/Stable bb+ Adequate Weak Moderate Above Avg/Strong bb None 0 (1)
Banco Santander (Brasil) S.A. BB-/Stable bb+ Strong Moderate Adequate Avg/Adequate bbb- None 0 (3)
Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Economico e Social BB-/Stable bb+ Adequate Moderate Strong Above Avg/Adequate bbb- None 0 (3)
Banco Safra S.A. BB-/Stable bb+ Adequate Moderate Strong Below Avg/Adequate bb+ None 0 (2)
Banco BTG Pactual S.A. BB-/Stable bb+ Adequate Adequate Moderate Below Avg/Adequate bb- None 0 0
Banco Votorantim S.A. BB-/Stable bb+ Adequate Weak Moderate Avg/Adequate bb- GCP 1 (1)
Banco do Estado do Rio Grande do Sul S.A. BB-/Stable bb+ Moderate Moderate Moderate Above Avg/Adequate bb- None 0 0
Banco de Credito e Inversiones A/Negative bbb+ Strong Adequate Adequate Avg/Adequate a- Sov 1 0
Banco del Estado de Chile A+/Negative bbb+ Strong Weak Adequate Above Avg/Strong bbb GRE 4 0
Banco Santander-Chile S.A. A/Negative bbb+ Strong Adequate Adequate Avg/Adequate a- Sov 1 0
Banco de Chile A/Negative bbb+ Strong Adequate Strong Avg/Adequate a None 0 0
Scotiabank Chile A/Negative bbb+ Adequate Adequate Adequate Avg/Adequate bbb+ GCP 2 0
Bancolombia, S. A. y Companias Subordinadas BB+/Stable bb+ Strong Weak Adequate Avg/Adequate bb+ None 0 0
Banco de Bogota S.A. y Subsidiarias BB+/Stable bb+ Strong Weak Adequate Avg/Adequate bb+ None 0 0
Banco Davivienda S.A. BBB-/Negative bb+ Strong Moderate Adequate Avg/Adequate bbb- None 0 0
Financiera de Desarrollo Territorial S.A. FINDETER BBB-/Negative bb+ Adequate Strong Adequate Below Avg/Adequate bb+ GRE 1 0
Financiera de Desarrollo Nacional S.A. BBB-/Negative bb+ Moderate Very strong Moderate Avg/Adequate bb+ GRE 1 0
BBVA Bancomer, S.A., Institucion de Banca Multiple, Grupo Financiero BBVA Bancomer y Subsidiarias BBB/Negative bbb- Strong Strong Adequate Avg/Adequate bbb+ None 0 -1
Banco Nacional de Mexico, S.A. (Banamex) BBB/Negative bbb- Strong Strong Adequate Avg/Adequate bbb+ None 0 -1
Banco Mercantil del Norte, S.A. Institucion de Banca Multiple Grupo Financiero Banorte BBB/Negative bbb- Strong Strong Adequate Avg/Adequate bbb+ None 0 -1
Banco Nacional de Obras y Servicios Publicos, S.N.C. BBB/Negative bbb- Adequate Strong Adequate Avg/Adequate bbb None 0 0
HSBC Mexico, S.A. BBB/Negative bbb- Adequate Adequate Adequate Avg/Adequate bbb- GCP 1 0
Nacional Financiera, S.N.C., Institucion de Banca de Desarrollo y Subsidiarias BBB/Negative bbb- Adequate Moderate Adequate Avg/Adequate bb+ GRE 2 0
Scotiabank Inverlat, S.A., Institucion de Banca Multiple, Grupo Financiero Scotiabank Inverlat BBB/Negative bbb- Adequate Strong Adequate Avg/Adequate bbb None 0 0
Banco Inbursa S.A. Institucion de Banca Multiple Grupo Financiero Inbursa BBB/Negative bbb- Adequate Strong Adequate Avg/Adequate bbb None 0 0
Banco Nacional de Comercio Exterior, S.N.C. (Bancomext) BBB/Negative bbb- Adequate Adequate Adequate Avg/Adequate bbb- GRE 1 0
BAC International Bank Inc. BB+/Stable bb+ Strong Moderate Adequate Avg/Adequate bbb- None 0 -1
Banco General, S.A. BBB+/Negative bbb- Strong Strong Adequate Avg/Strong bbb+ None 0 0
Promerica Financial Corporation B+/Stable bb- Strong Weak Adequate Avg/Adequate bb- None 0 -1
Banistmo S.A. BB+/Stable bbb- Adequate Adequate Adequate Avg/Adequate bbb- None 0 (1)
Banco Nacional De Panama BBB+/Negative bbb- Adequate Strong Adequate Above Avg/Strong bbb+ None 0 0
Banco de Credito del Peru BBB+/Stable bbb- Strong Strong Adequate Avg/Adequate bbb+ None 0 0
Banco BBVA Peru BBB+/Stable bbb- Strong Strong Adequate Avg/Adequate bbb+ None 0 0
Scotiabank Peru S.A.A. BBB+/Stable bbb- Strong Strong Adequate Avg/Adequate bbb+ GCP 2 -2
Banco Internacional del Peru S.A.A - Interbank BBB/Stable bbb- Adequate Adequate Adequate Avg/Adequate bbb- Sov 1 0
Source: S&P Global Ratings; data as of May 8, 2020. In the "Type of Support" column, "None" includes some banks where ratings uplift because of support factors may be possible but none is currently included. For example, this column includes some systemically important banks where systemic importance results in no rating uplift. §Holding company; the rating reflects that on the main operating company. Avg--Average. ICR--Issuer credit rating. GRE--Government-related entity. SACP--Stand-alone credit profile. Sys. Imp.--Systemically important. ALAC--Additional loss-absorbing capacity. GCP--Group credit profile. N/A--Not applicable. Sov—government support.

This report does not constitute a rating action.

Primary Credit Analyst: Cynthia Cohen Freue, Buenos Aires +54 (11) 4891-2161;
Secondary Contacts: Alfredo E Calvo, Mexico City (52) 55-5081-4436;
Sergio A Garibian, Sao Paulo (55) 11-3039-9749;
Claudia Sanchez, Mexico City (52) 55-5081-4418;
Victor C Santana, Sao Paulo + 55 11 97625-7027;

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