“Be greedy when others are fearful. Be fearful when others are greedy”. This is what the Oracle of Omaha once famously said to his shareholders.
Shortly after the Lehman Brothers’ collapse Buffett bought top blue-chip securities, including those of Goldman Sachs and Bank of America.
That time was really tough for banks, and many were close to going bankrupt. Central banks all over the world cut interest rates, to zero in some cases. Governments bailed out major banks and took extreme fiscal measures to save their national economies.
Buffett’s investment paid off very nicely. He took advantage of the panic and bought ‘too big to fail’ banks at record low prices. Bank of America’s shares became almost 10 times more expensive since the Great Recession. Goldman Sachs’s stock appreciated more than five times.
The causes of the 2008–2009 crisis were totally different from today’s market sell-off.
The main reasons were the mortgage crisis and the reckless investment methods banks, insurance companies, and hedge funds were using. There were very high levels of personal and corporate debt. Moreover, many investment companies clearly lacked proper diversification.
The situation in the US had a dramatic effect on other countries, including the UK. This was due to many financial organisations having exposure to high-risk US mortgage-backed securities.
Today’s market panic
Today, we find ourselves in a similar panic situation, although the causes of this sell-off are different. Shares of major banks have plunged. The UK government announced a £330bn support package for small businesses and said that it is prepared “to do whatever it takes”.
The Bank of England also announced that it would provide commercial banks with £190bn in extra money to ensure they have sufficient liquidity and are able to support small businesses.
The share prices of the banks I will mention below reacted positively after this decision was announced. However, they quickly erased all their gains, as coronavirus panic and a no-deal Brexit fears hang in the air. Nonetheless, the Bank of England’s willingness to support the financial sector is encouraging.
I think the banks mentioned below have merit as investments, despite the current difficult situation, because they are sure to survive:
Lloyds’ recent earnings were a bit discouraging. But this resulted from one-off charges relating to payment protection insurance. The bank has been aggressively cutting costs by closing some offices, reducing staff, and encouraging customers to access the banks’ services online. These measures, of course, will also help during this coronavirus crisis.
The bank’s price-to-earnings ratio (P/E) is near a record low of 8. The dividend yield is now close to 10%, and the share price is hovering near a 52-week low.
HSBC came up with a restructuring plan and recently appointed a new CEO of its business in China. The bank’s earnings decreased by more than 50% in 2019 compared to the year before. However, the P/E is almost 17 and the dividend of 50 GBX is not adequately covered by 2019 earnings of 30 GBX per share.
Barclays is the only one of the three whose earnings increased between 2018 and 2019. EPS (earnings per share) rose from 21.9 to 24.4 GBX, making the P/E ratio a little bit over 3. The current dividend yield is 12%. The bank considers its cost-cutting initiative to be its top priority.
It’s ugly out there…
The threat posed by the coronavirus outbreak has spooked global markets, sending stock prices reeling.
And with the Covid-19 virus now beginning to spread beyond of China and Italy, it seems very likely that the bull market we’ve enjoyed over the past decade could finally be coming to an end.
Against such a backdrop of market worry, it’s little wonder that many investors are starting to panic. (After all, nobody likes to see the value of their portfolio fall significantly in such a short space of time.)
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Anna Sokolidou does not hold shares of any of the companies mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool UK has recommended Barclays, HSBC Holdings, and Lloyds Banking Group. Views expressed on the companies mentioned in this article are those of the writer and therefore may differ from the official recommendations we make in our subscription services such as Share Advisor, Hidden Winners and Pro. Here at The Motley Fool we believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.