Lessons from Silicon Valley Bank
Comment of the Day

April 18 2023

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Lessons from Silicon Valley Bank

Thanks to a subscriber for this memo from Howard Marks which may be of interest. Here is a section: 

Total U.S. bank assets exceed $23 trillion.  Banks collectively are the biggest real estate lenders, and while we only have rough ranges for the data, they’re estimated to hold about 40% of the $4.5 trillion of CRE mortgages outstanding, or around $1.8 trillion at face value.  Based on these estimates, CRE loans represent approximately 8-9% of the average bank’s assets, a percentage that is significant but not overwhelming.  (Total exposure to CRE may be higher, however, as any investments in commercial mortgage-backed securities have to be considered in addition to banks’ holdings of direct CRE loans.) 

However, CRE loans aren’t spread evenly among banks: Some banks concentrate on parts of the country where real estate markets were “hotter” and thus could see bigger percentage declines; some loaned against lower-quality properties, which is where the biggest problems are likely to show up; some provided mortgages at higher loan-to-value ratios; and some have a higher percentage of their assets in CRE loans.  To this latter point, a recent report from Bank of America indicates that average CRE loan exposure is just 4.5% of total assets at banks with more than $250 billion of assets, while it’s 11.4% at banks with less than $250 billion of assets. 

Since banks are so highly levered, with collective equity capital of just $2.2 trillion (roughly 9% of total assets), the estimated amount the average bank has in CRE loans is equal to approximately 100% of its capital.  Thus, losses on CRE mortgages in the average loan book could wipe out an equivalent percentage of the average bank’s capital, leaving the bank undercapitalized.  As the BofA report notes, the average large bank has 50% of its risk-based capital in CRE loans, while for smaller banks that figure is 167%.

Eoin Treacy's view

The exposure of smaller banks to both the rise in long-dated yields and the looming restructuring of commercial property leases raises important questions for depositors. The most pressing is why take the risk? 

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