Call it some no holds barred German bank on German bank action.
After a tumultous start to a year that Germany's largest, and judging by the tens of billions in legal settlements and charges also its most criminal bank, Deutsche Bank, would love to forget, things got worse over the weekend when a note issued by another German bank said that either Deutsche will have to massively dilute its shareholders as a result of "insurmountable" debt, or a fate far worse could await the Frankfurt-based lender.
Berenberg analyst James Chappell pulled no punches and spoke in uncharacteristically frank terms, traditionally reserves for the fringe media, when he said that "facing an illiquid credit market limiting Deutsche Bank’s (DBK) ability to delever and with core profitability impaired, it is hard to see how DBK can escape this vicious circle without raising more capital. The CEO has eschewed this route for now, in the hope that self-help can break this loop, but with risk being re-priced again it is hard to see DBK succeeding." Chappell then broke the cardinal rule of sellside analysts: never issue a Sell rating on a fellow bank. "We downgrade to Sell and cut our price target to EUR9.00."
According to Chappell, the biggest problem, of which DB has many, is that it simply has too much leverage, some 40x to be precise, something we have warned about since 2013. To wit:
Too many problems still: The biggest problem is that DBK has too much leverage. On our measures, we believe DBK is still over 40x levered. DBK can either reduce assets or increase capital to rectify this. On the first path, the markets do not exist in the size nor pricing to enable it to follow this route. Going down the second path also seems impossible at the moment, as the profitability of the core business is under pressure. Seeking outside capital is also likely to be difficult as management would likely find it hard to offer any type of return on new capital invested.
In other words, DB may be frash out of options. But wait, there's more bad news because as Berenberg adds, the entire "industry is in structural decline"
The difficulty in analysing investment banks from the outside is that it is hard to establish core profitability. In an industry in structural decline, investment bank management teams are also likely to face similar challenges. Each weak quarter is seemingly greeted with an excuse that it could have been better if not for the wrong type of volatility, client uncertainty or central bank intervention. Q1 2016 saw the absence of one-off profitable events that have protected revenues in the past. We have perhaps had the first glimpse of what core profitability in the investment banking industry really is (ROEs in the midsingle digits at best) and it could be even worse if the traditional seasonality occurs.
Which brings us to his price target and Sell rating:
Price target cut to EUR9.00: We look at DBK’s valuation in two ways. One is a sum-of-the-parts analysis on the basis of normal conditions returning. This would imply a price target of EUR15.00. The second is a leverage adjusted P/E using the sector average multiple of 10x. This implies a price target of EUR9.00, using tangible book value. Considering “normal” conditions are unlikely to return and risk is re-pricing, we use the latter.
We applaud Chappell and only wish more of his peers had the guts to tell the truth and call it like it is.