Here’s what to look for in Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s earnings report

Shares of Commonwealth Bank of Australia (ASX: CBA) have fallen sharply again today. They’re down 2.3% at $74.60 a share, and down 12.8% since the beginning of 2016.

The bank, which is also Australia’s largest company by market value at roughly $130 billion, is due to report its earnings results for the six-months ended 31 December, 2015, before the market opens on Wednesday. According to The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), a record cash profit of more than $4.7 billion is expected which would represent growth of roughly 1.7% over the prior corresponding period ($4.62 billion).

Notably, that’s nowhere near the kind of growth that the bank’s long-term shareholders have grown accustomed to over the last few years. Competition amongst the banks for new customers in this low-interest rate environment is squeezing net interest margins (the profit they make on the loans they write) while investors will also be eager to learn the direction of bad debt charges.

Bad debts have fallen to record lows recently – again, a result of the low interest rates – but that trend cannot last forever and is expected to reverse course in the near future. That could put further pressure on the banks’ earnings and see them grow even slower in upcoming periods.

Another key focus will be the bank’s dividend payment to shareholders. There has been speculation that two of Commonwealth Bank’s rivals, namely Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ASX: ANZ) and National Australia Bank Ltd. (ASX: NAB), may need to cut their dividends in the near future.

While some analysts — including CLSA’s Brian Johnson, as highlighted by The SMH — believe it could be cut by 10 cents to $1.88 a share (due to last year’s capital raising diluting shareholder ownership), others believe there will be a slight increase in the interim dividend, possibly to a little over $2 a share.

Indeed, the bank’s dividend has played a key role in attracting investors in recent years, and could continue to do so if interest rates do fall any further. In saying that however, the share price certainly seems stretched – even despite the recent falls – and with limited growth prospects in the near future, could be one for investors to avoid for now.

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Motley Fool contributor Ryan Newman has no position in any stocks mentioned. Unless otherwise noted, the author does not have a position in any stocks mentioned by the author in the comments below. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ASXvalueinvest.

The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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