Assessing the Australian Banking Landscape

The major domestic banks are a core holding in the portfolios of many Australian investors. All four of them have outperformed the broader market since the start of 2024.

Our banks analyst Nathan Lead recently had a close look at the valuations of the banks to see if their recent share price strength could be justified by fundamentals. His conclusion was that it could not, particularly given an outlook for flat if not declining earnings (at least in the short term) driven by weaker net interest margins and higher costs. In his view, all four of the major Australian banks (and Bank of Queensland) are now trading above their intrinsic value, with CommBank and Bank of Queensland looking especially stretched. Dividend yields, so often an argument for investing in banks, are relatively low compared to history, as well as to their own term deposit rates and hybrid capital yields.

We think now is a good time to consider trimming some positions in the banks. Nathan does not have an ADD rating on any of the major banks, rating all of them HOLD except for Commonwealth Bank (REDUCE). With Bank of Queensland also rated REDUCE, the only bank Nathan sees as offering value at current levels is the smaller and arguably higher-risk Judo Capital (ADD).

Looking at the major banks in turn

ANZ (HOLD)

ANZ's Australian loan growth has outperformed its peers over the past 6 months. It is awaiting final approvals to complete the acquisition of Suncorp Bank. Our forecasts are above consensus for this year and next, but this may be because other analysts have not properly factored in the acquisition.

Commonwealth (REDUCE)

Trading at 2.7x book, it is the elevated valuation of CBA that keeps us on a REDUCE rating. It has been trying to protect margins during a period of intense home loan competition, which has resulted in its loan book growing less than others. CBA is the highest quality bank for our money, but we just think it's overpriced.

NAB (HOLD)

We have higher forecasts than the street because we think net interest income growth will be higher and loan losses lower than market expectations. We do expect cash earnings per share to decline this year, though, as costs increase.

Westpac (HOLD)

Westpac has been growing its Australian loan book at a similar rate to that of NAB (0.9x system). The shares have done well, which we believe stretches the valuation enough to make it hard to see further share price upside.

If you agree that the time is right to trim some of your positions in banks, you might want to think about alternative equities with broad exposure to the Australian economy and decent dividend yields. Within the insurance sector, consider QBE. Or within Diversified Financials, our analysts prefer GQG and WH Soul Pattinson.


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Disclaimer: The information contained in this report is provided to you by Morgans Financial Limited as general advice only, and is made without consideration of an individual's relevant personal circumstances. Morgans Financial Limited ABN 49 010 669 726, its related bodies corporate, directors and officers, employees, authorised representatives and agents (“Morgans”) do not accept any liability for any loss or damage arising from or in connection with any action taken or not taken on the basis of information contained in this report, or for any errors or omissions contained within. It is recommended that any persons who wish to act upon this report consult with their Morgans investment adviser before doing so.

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