The Small Bank / Big Bank Dichotomy

| About: SPDR S&P (KRE)

After a huge fall off in credit consistent with the fall in nominal GDP, we are seeing credit stabilise at a lower level. Debt to GDP ratios may not be lower, but as GDP is lower, so too is credit in the system. Yet there is a large difference between the haves and the have-nots, largely due to a difference in which banks received government largesse and which did not.

Bank analyst Don Coxe puts this in perspective for us:

A sustained U.S. economic recovery is unlikely until all banks, and not just the big institutions bailed out with government funds, start to recover from the effects of the financial crisis, according to longtime investment strategist Don Coxe.

Many banks that got funding from the government have seen their shares soar, while smaller, regional banks have not.

That’s a sign that investors believe the smaller banks are less well placed to participate in, and contribute to, the economic recovery, said the chairman of Coxe Advisors LLC in Chicago, who advises clients of the BMO Financial Group.

Think big banks – big business, small banks-smaller business. In effect, the credit flow for large multinationals is now back to normal. However, like consumers, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are finding a tougher reception. Revolving credit lines are being cut and loans are harder to come by (one reason Warren Buffett and Goldman Sachs are stepping into this space in this crucial holiday season).

This is a case of supply and demand constraints. One the one hand, credit supply is constrained because regional financials are loaded down with bad debts and have not received the same measure of bailout money that big banks have. On the other hand, SMEs are having to downsize and are demanding less credit.

"The thousands of regional U.S. banks on which an economic recovery depends have not participated in the sudden explosion of trading profits" of the biggest five U.S. banks, he said.

The state aid granted to large banks during the financial crisis has convinced investors the government will step in again in future to save the behemoths if needed. That has helped pull share prices back up from the 12-year lows hit in March.

By contrast, as more commercial real estate loans turn bad in the still-feeble economy, regional and community banks are struggling.

A key gauge of the gulf between big banks and smaller lenders is the KBW Regional Bank Index exchange traded fund (KRE.P). The ETF’s recovery has lagged the rebound in shares of the biggest five U.S. banks, said Coxe.

"There will not be the kind of sustained U.S. economic recovery that will drive a sustained U.S. bull market until the shares of the Main Street (NYSEARCA:KRE) banks begin to outperform" both those of the biggest five banks and the S&P 500 index .SPX, he said.