September 23, 2016 / 1:46 PM / in a year

Fitch: Yield Curve Flattening Remains a Risk to US Bank Margins

(The following statement was released by the rating agency) NEW YORK/CHICAGO, September 23 (Fitch) A flattening yield curve could continue to pressure US bank margins following the latest Federal Reserve open market committee (FOMC) meeting where the medium-term projection for the Fed funds target rate was lowered again, says Fitch Ratings. The uncertainty over the rate trajectory and terminal rate, coupled with the unprecedented length of this low rate period, remain key challenges and sources of uncertainty for the US banking sector. That said, Fitch believes that rate risks alone are unlikely to pose major risks to bank credit profiles or ratings. The Fed highlighted that economic conditions had strengthened the case for a rate increase at the FOMC meeting held on 21 September, underscoring Fitch's view that an additional 25bps hike by the end of this year is likely. However the broader messaging remained consistent with a very slow and gradual process of interest rate normalization, while the Fed's weighted average median projection for the target rate through to 2019 fell by 25-50bps. This follows a steady and continuous decline in the target rate projections over the past year. <iframe src="// d" title="Fed Funds Dot Plot" width="550" height="741" scrolling="no" frameborder="0"> The economic uncertainty and declining long-term rate expectations have contributed to a steadily flattening yield curve since early 2014, which has continued this year. Without a sustained reversal in this trend, bank net interest margins (NIM) are unlikely to see a material increase as margin pressures are likely to remain. Even a rise in short-term rates would have limited effect on bank earnings without a corresponding increase in medium and long-term rates. Fitch maintains that a sustained and consistently steep yield curve will be the key factor for improving NIMs over a meaningful period with the shape of the curve being more important for bank earnings than the level of short-term rates. Continued low rates could contribute to higher mortgage refinancing and improved non-interest income, but on aggregate, this has not been sufficient to offset the earnings effects from falling NIMs. Banks will continue to focus on expenses and operational efficiencies to address margin compression. Longer duration balance sheets will also be a consequence as expectations for the low rate environment extend further into the future. Fitch expects growth in the proportion of long-term loans and securities - maturities greater than 5 years - in recent years to continue. On aggregate, the longer duration balance sheet could pose a risk to banks in the event of a sudden and unexpected increase in rates, but for now are unlikely to pose a substantive risk to bank ratings. However, should individual banks react to longer-than-expected margin compression with significant changes to their balance sheet or business strategies, this may sufficiently alter credit profiles to warrant a rating action. Contact: Bain Rumohr, CFA Director +1 312 368-3153 33 Whitehall Street New York, NY 10004 Justin Patrie, CFA Fitch Wire +1 646 582-4964 Media Relations: Hannah James, New York, Tel: + 1 646 582 4947, Email: Additional information is available on The above article originally appeared as a post on the Fitch Wire credit market commentary page. The original article can be accessed at All opinions expressed are those of Fitch Ratings. ALL FITCH CREDIT RATINGS ARE SUBJECT TO CERTAIN LIMITATIONS AND DISCLAIMERS. PLEASE READ THESE LIMITATIONS AND DISCLAIMERS BY FOLLOWING THIS LINK: here. IN ADDITION, RATING DEFINITIONS AND THE TERMS OF USE OF SUCH RATINGS ARE AVAILABLE ON THE AGENCY'S PUBLIC WEBSITE 'WWW.FITCHRATINGS.COM'. PUBLISHED RATINGS, CRITERIA AND METHODOLOGIES ARE AVAILABLE FROM THIS SITE AT ALL TIMES. FITCH'S CODE OF CONDUCT, CONFIDENTIALITY, CONFLICTS OF INTEREST, AFFILIATE FIREWALL, COMPLIANCE AND OTHER RELEVANT POLICIES AND PROCEDURES ARE ALSO AVAILABLE FROM THE 'CODE OF CONDUCT' SECTION OF THIS SITE. FITCH MAY HAVE PROVIDED ANOTHER PERMISSIBLE SERVICE TO THE RATED ENTITY OR ITS RELATED THIRD PARTIES. DETAILS OF THIS SERVICE FOR RATINGS FOR WHICH THE LEAD ANALYST IS BASED IN AN EU-REGISTERED ENTITY CAN BE FOUND ON THE ENTITY SUMMARY PAGE FOR THIS ISSUER ON THE FITCH WEBSITE.

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