Meredith Whitney, the bank analyst who was one of the first to trumpet the woes of Citigroup and other major U.S. banks last year, says the credit crisis is “far from over.”
Next on deck, says Whitney, currently a banking analyst at Oppenheimer & Co., is the consumer sector, which is about to get hit hard.
“A lot of the credit market problems since last July will bleed into the consumer,” Whitney told Bloomberg TV.
“There is so much investor sentiment to the effect of ‘Let’s just have it be over.’ The problem is that consumer losses will mount, so bank managements will be caught off guard and have to reverse revenue.”
Two basic issues arise for the banking sector and economy, Whitney says.
“First, there has been an over-reliance on consumer liquidity coming from the securitization market. For example, for every dollar of mortgages put on bank balance sheets since 2000, seven times that rate has been securitized,” she notes.
“So as a result of the securitization shutdown, consumer liquidity will be constrained.”
The second problem is credit cards, she says.
“Regulators who clearly gaffed on the housing bubble will make up for lost time,” she says.
“They will make it so prohibitive for credit card lenders to make profits, which may be a good thing in the long term, that they will take $2 trillion off consumer balance sheets.”
For example, the new regulations announced by the Fed to cut back on onerous practices from credit card issuers will simply lead them to reduce the amount they’re willing to lend to consumers, Whitney says.
“Consumers will get it from all sides,” she says. “Consumer spending will decline, and consumer defaults will pick up.”
That’s bad news for the economy, Whitney points out. “Everyone will get a higher cost of borrowing,” she says.
“There’s only $800 billion of credit card debt outstanding, but over $4.7 trillion of unused lines outstanding. So when you cut that back substantially, everyone effectively gets a pay cut. No longer can you manage your cash flow.”
And obviously this situation doesn’t bode well for the biggest credit card issuers: JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, American Express and Capital One, Whitney notes.
“Credit card issuers can’t raise rates, so they will cut back on all loans. Credit cards will have meaningfully lower profit potential.”
Whitney says some of the securitization market will rebound but not enough to prevent the economy from taking a major hit.
“The vast majority of securitizations have been shut down since July,” she points out.
And what’s the impact of that? “Over the last four years the average quarterly run rate was over $200 billion in mortgages originated,” Whitney says. In the first quarter of 2008, that figure dropped to $33 billion.
“I don’t think that comes back,” she says. “If you’re a fund manager, will you invest in mortgage-backed securities when there’s such a tarnish on them? You will get sued by your clients. So there’s a buyers’ strike.”
Result: Tight money, tight credit, and an economy on the skids.
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