Upcoming Earnings Season Puts Financial Sector ETF Under Microscope

As the earnings season kicks off, financial sector-related exchange traded fund investors will see a clearer picture of how much in loans U.S. banks stand to lose due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Next week, a slew of major Wall Street banks will report quarterly earnings, including JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM), Bank of America Corp (BAC), Wells Fargo & Co (WFC), and Citigroup Inc (C),

ETF investors can also track the sector through the Financial Select Sector SPDR (NYSEArca: XLF), the largest financial services ETF. XLF’s top holdings include JPM 11.8%, BAC 7.6%, WFC 4.7% and C 3.9%.

Wall Street estimates have turned a one-eight from a month ago when analysts previously called for big bank earnings per share to rise in the first quarter by an average of 2% year-over-year, but now, market observers warn of steep declines ranging from 14% to 42%, Reuters reports.

A number of factors have contributed to the wide dispersion of forecasts. For instance, the impact of the global pandemic is hard to quantify, and a new accounting standard requires banks to calculate losses for the lifetime of loans and put aside money to cover the potential losses.

This new type of judgment call largely relies on the people handling the money, so a pessimistic management team could decide to take much bigger provisions than more risk-taking peers at a rival bank, even on similar loans.

“And, the truth is we’re probably going to be very wrong,” UBS bank lead analyst Saul Martinez told Reuters, regarding the new rules. “The risk is that it is higher.”

Looking ahead, Goldman Sachs analysts led by Richard Ramsden have drastically reduced estimates for big banks for all of 2020 by 40% this week due to the additional loan-loss provisions.

Meanwhile, the economy is still suffering from the effects of the coronavirus, with millions out of work, companies shut down and the U.S. government funneling trillions of dollars into the system to stem the bleeding. However, no one knows for how long it will last and what the outcome will eventually be. Consequently, the overhanging uncertainty will continue to gloom the general outlook as companies go through this earnings season.

“It is going to be a tricky balancing act,” Martinez added.

For more information on the financial sector, visit our financial category.