Bank bleeding not stanched
By Stevenson Jacobs
By Stevenson Jacobs
NEW YORK — The hemorrhaging among the nation's biggest banks was supposed to have subsided after the government doled out $350 billion in federal bailout money last fall. That hasn't happened.
Instead, both Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc. have had to turn to the government for more cash as losses related to toxic assets, souring consumer loans and the sinking economy blow holes in already flimsy financial balance sheets.
"The banks are still bleeding, just maybe not as such an advanced rate," said Kim Caughey, equity research analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh.
In a reminder of how bad things are, Citigroup yesterday reported an $8.29 billion loss in the fourth quarter and announced it was splitting itself in two.
Bank of America reported a $2.39 billion fourth-quarter loss, hours after ironing out a deal for a fresh multibillion-dollar lifeline needed to digest troubled brokerage Merrill Lynch. Both banks have now taken $45 billion apiece in bailout money.
The ongoing losses and scramble for more cash have sent bank stocks into a free fall in recent days as investors worry about more problems ahead — and the ramifications of an even bigger government role in trying to solve them.
More federal rescue money is on the way after the Senate on Thursday approved the release of another $350 billion for the ailing financial sector. But experts say even that won't prevent more bank losses stemming from the still-unfolding credit crisis.
The problem, analysts say, is that banks are still saddled with shoddy assets associated with subprime home mortgages, commercial mortgages and leveraged loans. As the economy gets worse and sheds more jobs, consumers and businesses increasingly are defaulting on these loans, eliminating revenue streams for banks and forcing them to mark down the value of those assets.
Another area of worry for banks is commercial real estate.
JPMorgan mostly blamed commercial real estate for the $1.1 billion in mortgage-related write-downs it took in the fourth quarter.
Bank of America recorded $853 million in commercial mortgage markdowns; Citigroup recorded $991 million; and Merrill Lynch had $1.13 billion.
Those write-downs are likely to grow as commercial mortgage delinquencies rise amid the recession.
Landlords are facing a triple-whammy of shrinking rents, rising vacancies and plunging property values at the same time many of them desperately need to refinance.
"Commercial real estate could be the next shoe to drop for banks," Caughey said.