Bank issuers: hold your nerve
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Bank issuers: hold your nerve

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Waiting till nearer summer to print could give banks even cheaper costs of funding

Like many large bond issuers, European banks rushed into the market in January to bite off large chunks of their annual funding.

Understandably, they wanted to de-risk achieving their targets by getting some scores on the doors in what is traditionally a good funding window.

Caution is all very well. But bank treasurers may have a few niggling regrets, seeing how much FIG euro spreads have tightened since.

There's no use fretting about the past. But banks can decide what to do next. And there is now an opportunity for banks to lower their funding costs if they remain patient amid the present enticing market conditions.

Sentiment has been more or less continuously improving this year, and underlying factors suggest spreads can keep tightening for several more months.

The US Federal Reserve and Bank of England hinted just last week of their intentions to cut interest rates, and they are predicted to start in the summer.

The European Central Bank could chime in with a similar message at its next meeting on April 11.

These harbingers of rate easing imply that conditions could get even better, allowing banks to lock in still more attractive funding if they wait and print bonds closer to the anticipated rate cuts.

One factor supporting the spread tightening is that there has still been a shortage of FIG supply in euros, for both senior and covered bonds. Meanwhile, fixed income funds have attracted inflows.

Another is that banks' fundamentals are strong.They are keeping risk-weighted assets steady, since clients are not borrowing much.

And as central banks have kept rates higher for longer than expected at the start of the year, banks will be able to earn higher net interest income for longer.

Strong 2023 earnings powered several European national champions to extremely high shareholder payout ratios, such as UniCredit's 100% return. These high earnings give an extra incentive to bond investors wanting exposure to these credits.

Recommendations are easy. Bank funding officials have a harder job: making sure the firm is safely financed.

Any number of market shocks could come out of nowhere, from wars to surprise election results.

But despite these risks, the last months have shown that issuance conditions for banks have been heavily dictated by the rates outlook.

Now that central banks have signalled their intentions, issuers that can afford to spread out their deals should sit back, try to relax — and print deals closer to the summer.

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