Like all major UK banks, Lloyds (LSE: LLOY) won’t be paying any dividends this year after a request from a regulator to shore up their balance sheets as the coronavirus crisis unfolds. Interest rates were also cut, limiting the bank’s ability to make money from loans. At the same time, the risks of loan defaults have been rising.
The Lloyds share price has suffered and sits at around 30p per share, roughly half of what it was before the market crash. Lloyds shares are in fact trading at levels not seen since 2012. So, it is cheap by historical standards. But is the Lloyds share price a bargain? Well, it could be for patient income investors willing to take the chance and wait for dividend payments to start again.
As things stand, Lloyds will not be declaring any ordinary dividends or share buybacks until the end of 2020. Now, investors in Lloyds have been here before. Tne final dividend of 2009 got scrapped as the financial crisis took its toll, and Lloyds did not start paying again until 2014.
Granted, this time is different. The coronavirus crisis is not the fault of the banks. Furthermore, the banks are in a lot better shape this time around. Lloyds has a capital ratio of 14.2%, significantly more than in 2009, and secured lending makes up 80% of its balance sheet.
I don’t think it is a question of survival this time. Instead, we must ask when things will get back to normal, and that’s a tough question to answer. A significant second wave of coronavirus cases would be a disaster in general. The Bank of England has flirted with the idea of negative interest rates to deal with a prolonged economic shock resulting from the virus, which would compound the problems banks are facing.
If it is not the coronavirus weighing on the economy in 2021, then there is the uncertainty of Brexit to contend with. The banks accepted a request to suspend dividends during the coronavirus, which has set a precedent. If Brexit is disorderly, could a similar request be issued again?
Lloyds management has stated it is committed to returning surplus capital to shareholders in due course. That sounds great, but that sentence turns on the definition of “surplus“. It could be the case that investors’ ideas of what a surplus is, compared to management’s, differ considerably for some time.
Share price bargain?
I am not overly confident that Lloyds will pay a dividend in 2021. Although the news today about Lloyds branching out into wealth management and insurance (not PPI) to dilute its reliance on the UK consumer banking sector is welcome, there are always risks with new projects. Even if they are successful, these new forrays will take time to pay off, and UK consumer banking will still be Lloyds’s bread and butter.
Nevertheless, if Lloyds shares start paying dividends anywhere near the 2.36p per share average payout of the last six years, shares bought at the current price could yield nearly 8% in the future. The Lloyds share price could be a bargain for an investor who is happy waiting a year or two for their yield to move away from zero.
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James J. McCombie owns shares in Lloyds Banking Group. The Motley Fool UK has recommended 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.