The turmoil in Asian markets "has the potential for a silver lining" for U.S. bank stocks, according to a new report.
A quick end to the recent problems could mitigate concerns about interest rate hikes and sluggish earnings per share growth, banking analysts at Natwest Markets said in the report.
Rates and earnings concerns are "the two primary head winds" that have kept bank shares from performing as well as other market barometers for the past 12 months, said Thomas D. McCandless, co-author of the report.
The hopeful note is among the first to be sounded about recent overseas woes. Most industry observers have concluded the volatility will hurt profits at U.S. financial institutions, especially those with a large overseas presence.
Indeed, some institutions have already felt the pain. BankBoston Corp. and Chase Manhattan Corp. suffered millions of dollars in trading losses as a result of foreign currency swings during October.
But a quick calming of the fluctuations would change the tone of overseas markets, allowing high interest rates to recede and reducing costs for U.S. companies that do business overseas, Mr. McCandless said.
As a result, banks' earnings growth might accelerate, surpassing that of the S&P 500 by 100 to 200 basis points, Mr. McCandless said.
Some market observers say the crises - in Asia and Japan - are only beginning and that some U.S. banks are too enmeshed to avoid hits. "The problem is going to be with us for some time," said George Salem, banking analyst with Gerard Klauer Mattison & Co., New York.
He said the five largest banks with overseas operations - BankAmerica Corp., Bankers Trust, Citicorp, Chase Manhattan, and J.P. Morgan - have at least $100 billion of exposure between them.
"Loans and other assets of every variety," including trading operations and placements with foreign banks, are at risk, Mr. Salem said.
Mr. McCandless acknowledged his positive scenario is predicated on a quick resolution. "The longer the various emerging-market economies remain under pressure from above-normal interest rates," the more likely earnings shortfalls will occur.
Mr. McCandless also warned that banks' upcoming earnings may not enjoy trading and other capital market gains that marked the third quarter.
He said Natwest Markets is bullish on "only those unique financial institutions that have solid or emerging revenue growth and meaningful improvement in cost efficiencies and loss reserves."
He likes NationsBank Corp. because of the cost savings expected from its pending merger with Barnett Banks. He also favors KeyCorp, based on a "rapidly improving relative earnings outlook and attractive valuation."
Other observers were skeptical of earnings from trading and capital markets fees.
Banks "face a more challenging operating environment and only those with superior qualitative advantages will differentiate themselves in terms of financial performance," said Jon A. Vacko, banking analyst with Duff & Phelps Credit Rating Co., New York.