Why This Bank Sector Sell-Off Is So Troubling for the Bull Market

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In late 2016 the markets rallied and rallied, and then they kept rallying into 2017. The financial services sector was one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Trump bump. The nation’s top money center banks fared incredibly well because they had the most to gain from deregulation and in a gradually rising interest rate environment. Now zoom forward to the end of May. Things are different, and that is right before the slow summer months.

The Dow is still up 6.4% and the S&P 500 Index up 8% so far in 2017, but the financials have barely risen, and some are still down. On top of other growth drivers affecting the banks now looking less rosy, both Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC) and JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM) have harmed the financials by talking down expectations on trading revenues in the second quarter.

JPMorgan was signaling a 15% drop in trading revenues so far in the second quarter due to lower volatility. Bank of America’s trading revenues were also indicated to be lower by CEO Brian Moynihan.

Other recent concerns have weighed on bank stocks. An unhealthy credit environment in car loans being more risky and delinquent has been hard to ignore, and credit card delinquency rates were also higher in the most recent quarter.

On top of this new down-draft of news, some investors have dialed down expectations on just how aggressive the Federal Reserve will be on interest rate hikes in 2017 and in 2018, at the same time that growth expectations just are not coming in as high as the markets had previously hoped.

Many of the Trump agenda efforts have also been pushed back on when and dialed down on how big, and many investors still wonder if any big changes will be seen this year or next. And on the long-term interest rate front, rates just haven’t stayed higher and that is a risk to the markets, based on growth expectations.

The 10-year Treasury note was last seen with a 2.21% yield, when  yield — a measure of inflation expectations that also influences rates on different types of credit — slipped one basis point to 2.21% after having hit 2.60% in March of this year.

And there is one more consideration about why the bank stock performance is so troubling. Bull markets usually cannot continue without the performance of the financial sector. They are large in value and their earnings broadly reflect the overall economic picture.

Bank of America shares were last seen trading down almost 2.4% at $22.30. The bank’s stock chart matters here as the $20 handle has been a hard floor of support going all the way back to December. The shares are down from a 52-week and multiyear high of $25.80, and its consensus analyst price target is still up at about $26. Bank of America’s book value per share was listed as $24.19 in April, with a tangible book value per share of $17.14.

Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C), the money center bank that trades at the biggest book value discount, was trading down just over 2% at $60.40 on Wednesday. It is down from a 52-week high of $62.69 but its shares were still up over 3% in 2017. Citi’s book value per share in April was $75.86, with a tangible book value of $65.94 per share.

JPMorgan was down 1.8% at $82.37 a share. Team Dimon’s shares were last seen down almost 3% so far in 2017. Its book value was listed as $64.68 per share in April, and its tangible book value was $52.04 per share.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE: GS) traded down 3% at $211.89. The top financial stock of the Dow Jones Industrial Average is now down more than 8% so far in 2017, making it the worst of the big money center banks and brokerages featured here. Goldman Sachs has a serious pivot level to watch closely around $210. Goldman Sachs listed its book value at $184.98 in mid-April.

Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS) was last seen down 2% at $41.44, but it was literally at a flat line for performance in 2017. This stock is up over 50% from a year ago. Morgan Stanley’s book value and tangible book value per common share at the end of the first quarter were listed as $37.48 and $32.49, respectively.

Wells Fargo & Co. (NYSE: WFC) traded down almost 1.8% to $51.22, and the stock is now down 5.3% so far in 2017 and down about 10% over the past quarter. With its problems of the unapproved bank account openings for many customers, the stock is up the least of the entire group here, with a 2.5% gain from a year ago. Wells Fargo continues to trade at the largest book value premium versus peers, with its stated book value at the end of the first quarter at $35.70 per share. Its tangible book value per share was $29.79.