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European banks ‘still facing strong headwinds’

The poor investment returns European banks have generated since the global financial crisis a decade ago are likely to continue for the foreseeable future, according to Jacob Vijverberg, a portfolio manager at Aegon Asset Management.

Vijverberg pointed out that if you had invested €100 in European banks in 2009 it would only be worth around €120 now equating to a measly 1.5% return per year, with even German Bunds posting better returns at around 3.5% a year over the same period.

“This poor rate of return is set to continue as European banks face a number of headwinds,” Vijverberg said.

The most pressing concern is the raft of new regulation banks have faced since the financial crisis which has seen the high capital requirements erode their return on capital, he said.

“The increase in capital ratios, making banks more resilient in times of crisis, whilst positive for depositors and taxpayers, means a lower return on capital for investors.

“Banks are earning approximately the same return on their assets as pre-financial crisis, but the returns now have to be spread across a higher capital base.”

The share price of a number of leading European lenders have staged modest recoveries over the last six months.

Tough competition

Vijverberg said another headwind facing European banks is stiff competition. “Europe is also over banked. Whatever metric you use, branches, employees or loans as a percentage of GDP, Europe has too many banks competing for the same clients, resulting in pressure on fees and interest income,” he said.

“The banks also face competition from nimbler fintech companies which have had little impact so far but are likely to gain traction partly thanks to new European regulations.”

The banks are also facing pressure on their interest margin, with the rates they pay on their liabilities (mainly deposits) and those they receive on their assets (loans and mortgages) narrowing.

“Many banks have realised the precarious situation they are in and are looking for other sources of income with many shifting towards fee paying business which does not require capital, such as financial advice or asset management, but here to profits are limited or already shrinking due to technology, regulation or focus on costs,” Vijverberg said.

“Clearly financial markets have realised the banks have some problems and the sector is therefore trading at low multiples but structurally we expect bank equity will underperform despite its cheap valuations.”

Vijverberg is the co-manager of the Kames Diversified Income Fund.

David Robinson

David Robinson is the editor of Expert Investor. He has 18 years’ experience as a business journalist and editor. In the past he has written for the Guardian newspaper and The Telegraph, and worked as...

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