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Banking and trucking: Is the economy rolling toward troubles?

economy and banks

The SPDR S&P Regional Banking ETF (NYSEARCA: KRE) closed 1.08% lower on November 6, after a privately held regional bank was closed by the Iowa Division of Banking.

It’s a story of two industries, banking and trucking, that may be indicating where the broader economy is headed. 

Some of the largest regional banks and their November 6 returns include:

Regional banks weren’t the only bank stocks to fall. The Invesco KBW Bank ETF (NASDAQ: KBWB), which tracks large banks, including Wells Fargo & Co. (NYSE: WFC), Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE: GS), Bank of America (NYSE: BAC) and JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM), finished the session down 0.78%. 

Broader financial sector trading lower

Meanwhile, S&P financial stocks as a whole, tracked by the Financial Select Sector SPDR Fund (NYSEARCA: XLF), were down 0.30%. 

The reason for the Iowa bank’s closure was different from Silicon Valley Bank’s March seizure by regulators, but ultimately the effect was the same. 

However, the Iowa bank’s insolvency raises questions about the trucking industry. That industry also fell on November 6.

While Americans keep buying stuff, the trucking industry is hitting the brakes. Large and small trucking companies are going out of business or declaring bankruptcy, as the industry finds itself with a glut of trucks. Industry analysts say rates are now back to, or below, 2019 levels, before people began furiously hitting the “buy” button to order goods while working from home. 

Freight brokerages are also getting hit. These are intermediaries in the logistics industry that connect shippers with carriers to facilitate the transportation of goods. They handle negotiations, paperwork, and logistics coordination. 

Consent order focused on trucking loan portfolio

Enter Citizens Bank, not to be confused with other, publicly traded institutions with similar names. When seizing the bank’s assets on November 3, regulators didn’t identify the trucking industry as the culprit behind bad loans, but the bank had previously entered into a consent order with Iowa regulators and the Federal Deposit Insurance Commission. 

That order was centered on the bank’s commercial trucking loan portfolio. 

The pieces add up: A small bank, overextended by loans to an industry that’s in a cyclical decline, is seized by regulators. According to the FDIC, all Citizens Bank deposits were transferred to the Iowa Trust & Savings Bank, thereby protecting depositors.

Regional banks have a year-to-date loss of 23.74%, although they rallied 9.24%, outpacing the gain of the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (NYSEARCA: SPY)

While the Silicon Valley Bank crisis may seem like it’s far in the rearview mirror, danger still lurks for regional banks, as the Citizens Bank situation illustrates. 

Office buildings behind other banks' bad loans

You can be sure it wasn’t the only bank with exposure to the trucking industry, but transportation stocks aren’t the only area of the economy showing cracks. Problems for regional banks have been caused by bad loans for office buildings. 

Bank analysts say regional banks are especially at risk of defaults from commercial real estate loans, as interest rates remain high. In fact, in their third-quarter reports, several regional banks reported year-over-year earnings declines, meaning the tough times don’t appear to be over just yet. 

For example, Zions Bancorp transferred $64 million worth of Southern California office property loans to “nonperforming” status in the most recent quarter. New York Community Bancorp Inc. (NYSE: NYCB) also cited commercial real estate problems, saying its portfolio of bad loans had grown in the quarter. 

M&T Bank wrote off $96 million in bad office building loans, in addition to a loan to a healthcare company. 

Federal Reserve chief Jerome Powell addressed the problem of regional banks at a talk in October, saying, “All of the bank regulators are working with banks that have, you know, concentrations of troubled real estate to work it out.” 

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