S&P Downgrades Banks With Highest Energy Exposure; Expects "Sharp Increase" In Non-Performing Assets

Moments ago S&P continued its downgrade cycle, this time taking the axe to the regional banks with the highest energy exposure due to "expectations for higher loan losses." Specifically, its lowered its long-term issuer credit ratings on four U.S. regional banks by one notch: BOK Financial Corp., Comerica Inc., Cullen/Frost  Bankers Inc., and Texas Capital Bancshares. The  outlooks on these banks are negative.

It also revised the outlook on BBVA Compass Bancshares to negative from stable and affirmed the 'BBB+/A-2' issuer  credit ratings.

We assume the non-regional mega banks are insulated from such actions because they are the primary beneficiaries of the Fed's generous $2.5 trillion in excess reserves which will allow banks to mask as much of O&G portfolio deterioration as is necessary to "weather the cycle."

What is notable is that among the S&P non-sugarcoated comments are some true fire and brimstone gems, which suggest that the big picture for banks with substantial energy exposure is about to get far worse. Here is what S&P said:

These rating actions follow a review of U.S. regional banks with large energy  loan portfolios as a percentage of both total loans and Tier 1 capital. Since we revised our outlooks to negative on five regional banks in January 2015, energy prices have declined by more than one-third and the asset quality of energy loan portfolios has deteriorated materially, albeit from fairly benign levels. Throughout 2015, criticized and classified assets climbed significantly, and in the fourth quarter, several regional banks with large energy loan portfolios reported increases in loan loss provisions and energy loss reserves to varying degrees, and, in certain cases, nonperforming assets (NPAs) also rose.

 

Given further declines in energy prices in recent months, less hedging activity by borrowers, and potentially more difficulty for borrowers to cure (i.e., resolve) borrowing base deficiencies through capital raises or asset sales, we think troubled debt restructurings and NPAs in the energy sector will increase, possibly sharply, in coming quarters. We also think banks will increasingly emphasize the potential loss content among rising levels of NPAs that we expect to see throughout 2016. In addition, we think regulatory scrutiny of energy loan portfolios will increase in 2016, including during the upcoming Shared National Credit (SNC) exams (two will be conducted in 2016) and the annual stress tests regulators mandate, which may encourage the use of higher loss assumptions.

 

Many banks have been lowering their energy price assumptions ("price decks") for exploration and production (E&P) loans throughout 2015, resulting in reduced borrowing bases (the value of a borrower's reserves against which banks typically lend). In the next semiannual borrowing-base determination this spring, we expect that borrowing bases will decline further, mainly because of lower energy prices (i.e., valuations) and possibly lower reserve replacement, which could lead to more borrower deficiencies (i.e., loan balances that are greater than the borrowing base). Although banks typically allow borrowers as long as six months to resolve a deficiency, we think many borrowers will have fewer options to cure through debt capital issuances or asset sales and dispositions, which were more common last year. Specifically, the cost of capital has increased for many borrowers, and private equity firms may be less willing to commit additional capital to resolve deficiencies. In addition, E&P borrowers may have unsecured debt in addition to their reserve-based loans, which could pressure their overall finances and push them into default or bankruptcy.

 

Equally as important, we think the performance of indirect credit exposures in local energy-focused markets could deteriorate somewhat over the next two years. Although deterioration has not yet been meaningful, we still think the energy price slump could hurt commercial real estate (CRE) in these local markets, such as Houston or smaller cities in Texas, throughout 2016 and 2017. However, we recognize that lower energy prices could have a broad-based positive impact on U.S. consumers and corporations where energy is a significant input cost. We are also wary of strategies that some banks may execute to aggressively grow their loan portfolios in other loan segments, such as CRE, in order to offset contraction in their energy loan portfolios.

 

Although we expect that banks will likely continue to increase their loan loss provisions and reserves within their energy loan portfolios over the next several quarters, we consider that currently low NPAs, solid preprovision earnings generation, and, in some cases, high risk-adjusted capital (RAC) ratios offer the banks a cushion to absorb higher loan loss provisions. This was a key factor in our decision to limit our rating actions to one notch at this point.

 

In our analysis of these companies, we evaluate the potential impact of certain adverse scenarios, based on default and net loan loss assumptions for different types of energy lending. For example, we expect that E&P reserve-based lending will have lower net loss rates than energy services lending because of conservative advance rates on reserve collateral. We will continue to consider the array of possible assumptions regarding energy loan default and net loss rates, as the cycle develops. At this time, however, we do not believe that these banks' loan loss provisions would exceed preprovision earnings under most foreseeable scenarios, and, thus, our rating actions following this review were limited to a one-notch downgrade.

 

The following table presents a few of the key metrics we are tracking and lists the banks that are included in today's actions, as well as others we believe have above-average exposure to energy.

 

Is that the end of it? Not even close. Expect much more pain - initially among the regional lenders, many of whom have been given explicit instructions to extend and pretnd as long as possible by the Dallas Fed as reported exclusively here before - before we reach a true bottom in bank exposure.

Finally, for the full list, here is a breakdown from Raymond James laying out the US banks, both regional and national, with the highest exposure to energy: while some of these were just downgraded, this was for a reason: expect much more negative surprises from these lenders in the coming months as more shale stop servicing their debts.