Why record profits may not be enough for Commonwealth Bank

The rising rates environment has benefited the banks, although Commbank's report may indicate that NIM expansion is coming to an end.
William Heine

Livewire Markets

For the past year, few topics have commanded the attention of markets like the rise in interest rates, as the RBA struggles to moderate inflation. For many asset classes, this has been a challenging environment, but for some industries, such as banking, rising rates have added to already hefty profits. 

One beneficiary of higher rates has been Commonwealth Bank (ASX: CBA), which this morning delivered a record profit of $5.15 billion. Markets were unimpressed, however, and saw the CBA share price tumble more than 5% as markets opened.

So, why then did huge profits, growing return on equity, and a bigger dividend payout still leave investors unsatisfied? For Airlie Investment Analyst Will Granger, it all has to do with growing headwinds that he sees affecting the entire banking industry. 

"We typically take a longer-term view than one year. However, I think the outlook for the banks for the next year is skewed toward the negative. While the expansion in NIMs has been a clear boon to the sector, there appears to be some countervailing factors emerging."

It's not all bad news for Commbank though, as Will explains;

 "CBA enjoys two enduring competitive advantages in its high-quality deposits franchise as well as its scale advantage relative to peers, both of which should bode well for shareholder returns over the long term."

In this wire, Will discusses these conflicting factors and gives his outlook for CBA, the banking industry, and the entire Australian share market.

CBA 1-year prices v ASX200. Source: MarketIndex, Wednesday 15 February

Note: The interview took place Wednesday 15 February 2023. Commbank is a holding of Airlie Funds Management. 

Will Granger, Investment Analyst at Airlie Funds Management

CBA H1 Key Results

  • Cash net profit after tax of $5.15 bn (half year ended 31 December 2022)
  • Interim dividend of $2.10 per share (up 35c on the corresponding prior period)
  • Return on Equity (on a cash basis) 14.1%, up 80 basis points on FY22H2
  • Net interest income increased by 19%
  • Operating income increased 12% ($13.59 bn)
  • Operating expenses rose by 5%

Key company data for CBA

Source: MarketIndex, Wednesday 15 February

In one sentence, what was the key takeaway from this result?

In our view, the key takeaway from the result is a period of rapid net interest margin expansion for the banks may be coming to an end sooner rather than later. 

What was the market’s reaction to this result? In your view, was it an overreaction, an under-reaction, or appropriate?

CBA is currently trading down around 5% since opening this morning, so at least initially, the market has reacted negatively to the result. I think that's an appropriate reaction. 

While the result itself was strong, and largely in line with expectations, the market's focus will be on the outlook for 'net interest margin', or NIMs, which appears to be more cautious than expectations. 

And that's really for two reasons. Firstly, the trajectory of NIMs through the half was a little concerning with a peak occurring in October, before declining through the rest of the half. 

Secondly, management highlighted a number of margin headwinds in the second half of 2023, including intensifying competition for loans and deposits, as well as higher wholesale funding costs. While that's far from conclusive evidence that NIMs have peaked, it's concerning nonetheless, given the lofty valuations in the sector.

Were there any major surprises in this result that you think investors should beware of?

Not really, the result was pretty in line with consensus expectations across most facets of the business. As we just discussed, I think the key surprise really was expectations around NIMs, and the implications for the sector valuations. 

Would you buy, hold or sell CBA on the back of these results?

Rating: Hold

It really depends on your time horizon, but we're happy to take a longer-term view, and as a result, I put CBA on hold. CBA enjoys two enduring competitive advantages in its high-quality deposits franchise as well as its scale advantage relative to peers, both of which should bode well for shareholder returns over the long term. 

We've just been through a period of very cheap funding for the banks which has obscured the relative advantage of CBA's superior deposits franchise, but with interest rates rising the importance of that high-quality low-cost funding only increases. The chart we love in the CBA presentation is the comparison of CBA's growth in shares on issues versus peers.

CBA - Half yearly report 2023

Over the past two decades, CBA’s shares on issue have grown by just 30% compared to roughly 100% growth in shares on issue for peers. Or in other words, CBA shareholders have experienced roughly a third of the dilution of their counterparts, which is supportive of higher long-term returns for shareholders. 

What’s your outlook on CBA and its sector over the year ahead? Are there any risks to this company and its sector that investors should be aware of?

We typically take a longer-term view than one year. However, I think the outlook for the banks for the next year is skewed toward the downside. While the expansion in NIMs has been a clear boon for the sector, there appear to be some countervailing factors emerging. 

As we've discussed, CBA has the highest-quality deposits franchise, so if they're starting to pressure on NIMs. What does that mean for the rest of the sector? 

And the other obvious risk for the sector is whether we enter a recession and to what extent that recession results in a material spike and bad debts. I don't have any special insight into predicting macro outcomes, but it's hard to see how current bank valuations compensate for this risk. What I can say though, is that CBA is likely in a better position than its peers to weather any downturn, given its superior franchise. 

From 1-5, where 1 is cheap and 5 is expensive, how much value are you seeing in the market right now? Are you excited or are you cautious on the market in general?

Rating: 3

I'd say around a three. But that being said, we're excited about the market. There's been a lot of volatility in recent months, and that's exciting as it invariably throws up opportunities to buy businesses we like at valuations we find attractive. 

10 most recent director transactions

Source: MarketIndex, Wednesday 15 February

Catch all of our February 2023 Reporting Season coverage

The Livewire Team is working with our contributors to provide coverage of a selection of stocks this reporting season. You can access all of our reporting season content by clicking here.

Livewire gives readers access to information and educational content provided by financial services professionals and companies ("Livewire Contributors"). Livewire does not operate under an Australian financial services licence and relies on the exemption available under section 911A(2)(eb) of the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) in respect of any advice given. Any advice on this site is general in nature and does not take into consideration your objectives, financial situation or needs. Before making a decision please consider these and any relevant Product Disclosure Statement. Livewire has commercial relationships with some Livewire Contributors.

1 stock mentioned

1 contributor mentioned

William Heine
Content Editor
Livewire Markets

Will is a Content Editor at Livewire Markets and studies Actuarial Studies & Mathematics (Honours) at UNSW. Previously he worked in the analytics team at Fitch Ratings covering residential mortgage and asset-backed securities.

I would like to

Only to be used for sending genuine email enquiries to the Contributor. Livewire Markets Pty Ltd reserves its right to take any legal or other appropriate action in relation to misuse of this service.

Personal Information Collection Statement
Your personal information will be passed to the Contributor and/or its authorised service provider to assist the Contributor to contact you about your investment enquiry. They are required not to use your information for any other purpose. Our privacy policy explains how we store personal information and how you may access, correct or complain about the handling of personal information.


Please sign in to comment on this wire.