September has regularly been a strange month on the ASX and this year has been no exception.
This has been reflected in the fortunes of shares in the Big Four banks, which climbed to the heights earlier this year on a combination of buybacks, profits and dividends.
But is the party now over for bank shares?
They are probably taking a breather for the time being. All of the Big Four are seen to be under pressure in terms of their return on equity, and each of them has some issues of restructuring to deal with which might keep them occupied.
There is little doubt, however, that in the long term big bank shares have delivered to investors. This is particularly the case for investors chasing after dividends as part of their income strategy, and this is why bank shares are so beloved by self-funded retirees.
They will have been delighted this year, when the CBA more than doubled its dividend up to $2 a share, and also announced a $6 billion share buyback which was this week revealed as being three times oversubscribed.
But a look at the CBA share price suggests that the fizz might have gone out of the stock for the time being. After hitting a high of just over $108 in early August after all the good news was digested the share price has drifted since then, and is at just over $105 this week.
A look at the price of the other three big banks – ANZ, Westpac and NAB – shows a similar pattern. All of them hit year highs in July or August and have subsided since then.
Over the longer term the CBA has been the standout performer. The shares have increased in value by more than 40% over the last five years while also delivering plenty of juicy dividends along the way.
The other banks, meanwhile, may have delivered the dividends but in terms of capital growth the shares of all of the other three have largely stood still.
Going forward, these three all have their issues as they look to sell off wealth management and insurance businesses or – in the case of NAB – bed down the recent acquisition of Citi’s retail business in Australia. Earnings are expected to come under pressure.
This doesn’t mean the banks are necessarily a bad buy right now. There is an argument that investors should buy on the dips, and that’s where the shares are at now.
They could simply be taking a breather for a next surge to new highs, but perhaps the motivation in buying major bank shares in the current market could be more about acquiring a dividend stream than going for capital growth.
Outside of the Big Four, the other ASX linked bank stocks are the Bank of Queensland, Suncorp Metway, Bendigo Bank and MyState.
Of these, the BoQ seems to be defying the trend and the share price is heading north after the recent acquisition of Melbourne-based ME Bank.
Of the others, Suncorp Metway has been considered a perennial takeover target and this has given many investors a reason to hold the shares: waiting for a big offer for one of the Big Four.
Tasmania’s MyState could also be worth a look, and have been rising continually since March last year.
If you are pondering adding banks to your portfolio, one way to go could be to pick one of the Big Four, and one of the regionals.
It would give some nice balance, and some different exposure across the banking sector.