Lloyds Banking Group: an even worse bet than RBS

RBS is often cited as the ultimate basket case of the UK banks. And it’s true that RBS is still a mess.

But after looking at Lloyds Banking Group’s latest results, I reckon it’s in even more of a state than RBS.

Like RBS, Lloyds has a ‘good’ bank and a ‘bad’ bank. The core bank put in a reasonable performance in 2011, with pre-tax profits up from £2.2bn to £2.7bn.

The trouble is that there’s a lot of bad stuff offsetting this. The effect of writing off bad loans was less significant than in 2010, but was still a whopping £9.8bn.

Throw in a hit of £3.2bn for mis-selling payment protection insurance and Lloyds lost £2.8bn compared to £320m in 2010. There’s no escaping the fact, these are terrible figures.

Yet that’s not what concerns me about Lloyds. It’s the bank’s financing structure that’s the real problem.

Lloyds is very vulnerable to a new credit crunch

Have a look at the chart below. It shows how banks are financing their loans.

UK banks: loans-to-deposits ratio
Uk banks' loans to deposit ratios

It seems sensible for banks not to lend out more than they take in from customers’ deposits. But during the boom years that view was seen as old-fashioned.

Instead, many banks borrowed extra funds from the financial markets so that they could make more loans and more profits. When these markets dried up, many banks were in trouble (it’s what brought down Northern Rock).

These days, as you can see from the chart, the likes of HSBC, Standard Chartered and even RBS are fully financing their loan books with deposits. Lloyds on the other hand, has a loans-to-deposits ratio of 135%. It is still reliant on £251bn of wholesale finance.

This is a very risky proposition for two reasons. Firstly, Lloyds is vulnerable to a credit crunch scenario; the turmoil in the eurozone means that this remains a real threat.

Secondly, it is vulnerable to rising funding costs. We think that banks in general – and given its funding position, Lloyds in particular – will have to increase the amount of financing they get from deposits. But if they want to do that, then they’re going to need to pay people higher interest rates in order to attract their savings.

That’s good news for you and me (finally), but it means higher costs for the banks. And if they can’t pass these costs on to borrowers, then profits will fall.

There could be lots more write-offs to come

Lloyds still has £141bn of ‘non-core’ assets that it wants to get rid of. As with RBS, these assets will probably trigger more losses when sold.

Also, don’t forget Lloyds’ large exposure to the UK and Irish property markets, along with commercial real estate and leveraged finance loans. These are not the sort of assets to hold in a weak economy.

We suspect these loans will inflict more pain on Lloyds’ shareholders. The tangible net asset value (NAV) per share of 58.6p should therefore be taken with a hefty pinch of salt.

And as with both Barclays and RBS, Lloyds has had to admit that its hopes for future earnings have been too optimistic. They are all saying that their hopes of earning 12-15% returns on shareholders’ money were too high or will take longer to achieve.

This shouldn’t come as a shock. Higher capital requirements, writing fewer loans at lower interest rates, and potentially rising funding costs, are bound to result in lower profits and lower returns.

Lloyds was targeting a return on equity (ROE) of 12.5%-14.5% by 2014. Let’s step back and think about how it could achieve that. As we’ve said before, banks aren’t particularly good businesses. Their returns on assets (profit after tax/assets) are typically less than 1% – sometimes a lot less.

It’s only by leveraging these poor returns by 20 or 30 times (assets/equity) that were they able to generate high returns for shareholders back in the ‘good old days’.

This is pure financial engineering and nothing to do with talent. So with lower returns and less leverage, what ROE can a bank realistically expect to earn?

Take Standard Chartered’s best-in-class ROE of 11.4%. This was achieved with returns on assets of 0.85% and leverage of 13.3 times. Are Lloyd’s assets as good as Standard Chartered’s? We don’t think so. Only by taking big risks and using high leverage can Lloyds make acceptable returns.

From our point of view, an acceptable investment would be a single-digit ROE (paid out in dividends) alongside low leverage. Lloyds and most of its peers are still a long way from this position.

Last year, as with RBS, we warned readers to avoid Lloyds when it was trading at around 48.5p a share. It’s now 36p – and we still wouldn’t buy it. Steer well clear.

6 Responses

  1. 24/02/2012, Boris MacDonut wrote

    Well done Phil. At last someone has spotted the inconsistency here. Lloyds (a once reasonably well run bank) was hijacked by fools and so determined to absorb HBoS that they persisted after the Crunch. Whatever people say about Gordon Brown and shotgun weddings, Lloyds wanted to have the Halifax.
    Sadly now it has got it. Halifax was the Northern Rock supersized ten fold or more. All of Lloyds woes stem from the festering pile of poison they inherited from this massive failure of judgement.
    Do not buy Lloyds they are basically penny shares

  2. 28/02/2012, Aduffawol wrote

    Good article phil but I want you to bare with me for One moment and excuse my ignorance I’ll make it as brief as I can Banks get money form BOE at 0.5 percent which helps with funding issues . Banks lend this dirt cheap money out at a higher rate which helps with profitability issue. MY point is that is it not true that even if our banks are insolvent it doesn’t matter because while they receive this cheap money from the BOE is gives then time to offset losses made in the past with profits made in the future and time for assets to recover in values as solvency is determined by asset value and liabilities.

  3. 01/03/2012, phil wrote

    Hi Aduffawol

    Your points are very fair. Base rates at 0.5% are helpful. The key to profis is the difference between what it borrows at and what it lends at – the net interest margin. Lloyds is saying that this margin will be lower in 2012. Lloyds is having to pay more for wholesale finance of which it has 250 million pounds. It needs more deposits too so had to offer higher rates to savers. It will struggle to pass these costs on in loan rates. So even with low base rates it may not be enough to offset lots of bad loans. Core bank
    profits before loan losses are under pressure. Throw in some loan losses and it wouldn’t surprise me if Lloyds net asset value keeps falling

  4. 01/03/2012, phil wrote

    Sorry meant to say 250 billion not million.

  5. 18/03/2012, Flo wrote

    Hello Phil. Quite an interesting article. To be clear, and down the line, for a regular client who just want to, let’s say, open an ISA with them, or a 2 years ISA deal: is there a risk of basically seeing the bank struggling so bad that they would go down and not be able to give back the money to clients? Last week, RBS and Lloyds sacked 1900 people….
    Many thanks

  6. 05/07/2012, Dog wrote

    What a lot of nonsense, NOW is the it e to invest, 3-5 years from now
    we’ ll all be wishing we were on board here. Stick with the human league, not talking tosh.

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