The Lloyds Banking Group (LSE: LLOY) share price is on a major rollercoaster ride. The FTSE 100 bank isn’t alone in suffering extreme turbulence, of course, as investors digest the potential impact of the Omicron variant on the economic recovery. However, a case can be made that Lloyds’ share price could now be too cheap to miss.
City analysts are expecting the bank’s earnings to drop 22% year-on-year in 2022. Next year’s projection leaves Lloyds trading on a forward price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of just 7.4 times.
On top of this, number crunchers think Lloyds will have the financial strength to keep raising dividends next year, despite that expected earnings reversal. A 2.57p per share reward is currently anticipated, up from the 2.34p dividend that’s predicted for 2021. This results in a mammoth 5.4% dividend yield.
Cheap for a reason?
At a current price of 47.3p the Lloyds share price offers plenty of value on paper. Its P/E ratio for 2022 sits well inside the widely-regarded bargain benchmark of 10 times and below. Furthermore, that dividend yield for next year makes mincemeat of the FTSE 100 forward average of 3.4%.
However, I also think that Lloyds’ cheap valuation reflects the high threat that next year’s earnings dip could come in much worse than expected. It also illustrates the uncertain outlook for the UK economy over the long term. Highly cyclical shares like banks face the prospect of extremely weak profits growth in the shadow of a long economic hangover from Covid-19 and the stresses caused by Brexit.
Growing fears for Lloyds’ share price
My concerns over Lloyds have ratcheted up a notch or two in recent days. This is because the emergence of Omicron has increased the chances of subdued revenues growth and a tsunami of bad loans in 2022, possibly beyond. It’s early days of course and the harshness of this particular Covid-19 mutation is yet to be ascertained. But it’s something investors like me need to take seriously given the pandemic-related carnage dealt to banks last year.
The Omicron outbreak could also have a significant impact on the scale and timing of Bank of England rate rises. It had been suggested that Threadneedle Street could begin raising its benchmark as soon as next month. Such action might now be in jeopardy, dealing a further blow to Lloyds’ profitability. Higher rates allow banks to charge individuals and companies more to borrow their cash.
I’d buy other cheap FTSE 100 shares
Lloyds isn’t a complete basket case. Its shares could soar in price if the Omicron virus proves to be less dangerous than earlier assessments indicated. Profits could bounce if the housing market remains strong (Lloyds is by far the UK’s biggest home loans provider). Work to improve its digital operations could also pay off handsomely as online banking goes from strength to strength.
It’s my opinion that the risks outweigh the potential rewards, however. Sure, the Lloyds share price is cheap. But aside from those Covid-19-related worries, I also fear the bank has a lot to lose as competition in all its major product areas grows. This is why I’d much rather buy other cheap FTSE 100 shares right now.