Bank valuations: Good news and bad news

Bank valuations: Good news and bad news

Fecha: marzo 2024

Marta Alberni, Ángel Berges and Alejandro Montesinos

Bank valuations

SEFO, Spanish and International Economic & Financial Outlook, V. 13 N.º 2 (March 2024)

After two years of tailwinds, the Spanish and European banks’ earnings have capitalised on the favourable interest rate climate, which has catapulted their margins while asset quality has kept the cost of risk at very low levels. By comparison with their outstanding earnings performance, the banks’ stock market performance has been more nuanced. On the one hand, the banks have outperformed the general stock indices for the last two years. Nevertheless, they have yet to close the gap between their market value and book value (the ratio known as price-to-book value, or P/B, remains at around 0.7x, implying a discount of 30%), despite the fact that their return on equity (ROE) is back above 10%, the threshold traditionally deemed necessary to close the valuation gap. Given the aforementioned correlation between the ROE and CoE implied by the P/B ratio, it can be deduced that the inability to close the gap can be attributed to one or both of the following factors: a) doubts about the banks’ ability to sustain the current ROE levels; and/or, b) the cost of equity (CoE) required of the banks has increased above the conventionally assumed threshold of 10%. On the basis of the takeaway from the responses provided to the Risk Assessment Questionnaire carried out by the European Bank Authority (EBA) across a wide sample of European banks, the explanation appears to most likely lie primarily with the second factor. In any event, without questioning the banks’ perception that their cost of equity has increased in the past year (attributable, to a degree, to an element of ‘stagnation’ in long-term interest rates at high levels), the discount at which the European and Spanish banks are currently trading seems excessive considering that a good percentage of the banks surveyed see their ROEs as sustainable over the coming year.

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