Why the CBA share price is lagging its big four cohorts

The CBA share price has grown less than the other major banks since 22 May despite being the country’s largest bank. Is it time to buy?

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The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (ASX: CBA) share price has lagged behind the other major banks since the market turned on 22 May. Since then, CommBank’s share price has risen by 22%. While impressive, all of the remaining major banks saw increases of over 30% across the same period. This includes Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited (ASX: ANZ) which saw a 36% rise in its share price. Even the out of favour Westpac Banking Corp (ASX: WBC) has seen greater share price rises than the largest Aussie bank.

The Commonwealth Bank has, however, been moving forward in preparing itself for the future. This includes by selling off distracting assets not focused on its core business of banking, as well as entering the buy now, pay later market via a deal and 5% stake in Swedish company Klarna. 

So, what is holding back the CBA share price?

CommBank was the first Aussie bank to signal its intention to cut back on Covid-19 support by 30 June. Principally via assessing all claims for loan deferrals on a case by case basis, rather than automatic acceptance. This means customers with ongoing hardship as a result of the coronavirus crisis will have to contact the bank for alternative support. I believe this move is weighing heavily on the CBA share price. 

While this approach seems fiscally prudent at face value, it creates two problems. First, there are issues related to auditing.

Most loans deferred from 20 March, the date the conditions were commenced, would be 90 days overdue. After 90 days default, notices are required to be sent by auditors. A default notice demands payment of the overdue amount plus the current repayment. Debtors can apply for a hardship variation at this stage. With the other banks, when the period finishes on (say) 30 September, customers will just start paying again at that time.

Second, CommBank will likely be the first of the majors to start to see loan defaults for those customers unable to pay who do not qualify for whatever the ‘alternative’ support may be.

Commonwealth Bank is by far the largest of any Aussie bank in the mortgage market with 14.75% market share, according to a report by Australian Finance Group Ltd (ASX: AFG). Therefore, it is exposed to the greatest economic impact of both loan deferrals and potentially loan defaults. 

Alan Kohler opined in The Australian this week that the total amount of the deferred loans is equal to 90% of the market capitalisation of the big four banks. In fact, it is $224 billion across mortgages and business loans. This is a frighteningly large amount of money. Even a small percentage is a frighteningly large amount of money.

Foolish takeaway

CommBank is the country’s largest mortgage lender, a major player in business loans and the country’s largest digital payments institution. As such, Coronavirus is likely to impact the CBA share price more than the other major banks. In response, CommBank has taken the decision to stem the bleeding by cutting short its 6-month coronavirus support measures to finish on 30 June.

At the close of trading on Tuesday, Commonwealth Bank had the lowest price to earnings ratio of the big four banks. It also had the second lowest trailing 12-month dividend yield, even though dividends are presently on hold. The CBA share price remains 9.6% down year to date. 

I would recommend Commonwealth Banks shares to anyone willing to buy and hold over the medium to long term who is prepared to deal with the inevitable bad news to come as the economy normalises.

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Motley Fool contributor Daryl Mather has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. 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 Scott Phillips.

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