Regional Bank ETFs Could Surprise

Financial services exchange traded funds delivered some big disappointments in March and regional bank ETFs were particularly egregious offenders. For example, the iShares U.S. Regional Banks ETF (NYSEArca: IAT) slumped more than 7% last month.

Predictably, much of the bull case for regional banks depends on the Federal Reserve and interest rates. With a steepening yield curve or wider spread between short- and long-term Treasuries, banks could experience improved net interest margins or improved profitability as the firms borrow short and lend long. Although the Fed unveiled its first rate hike of 2017 last month, the central bank’s dovish tone punished regional bank stocks and ETFs.

Higher interest rates would help widen the difference between what banks charge on loans and pay on deposits, which would boost earnings for the financial sector. Regional banks are among the stocks most positively correlated to rising interest rates because higher rates improve net interest margins.

However, some market observers see other catalysts on the horizon and those catalysts are expected to come on the regulatory front.

“These organizations could see potentially significant regulatory relief under the new administration if they are legally differentiated from larger, more complicated bulge bracket banks, which represent the country’s largest multinational investment banks,” said BlackRock in a recent note.