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European banks shine as bond trading rebounds

By Danilo Masoni and Thyagaraju Adinarayan
FILE PHOTO: The German share price index DAX graph is pictured at the stock exchange in Frankfurt

By Danilo Masoni and Thyagaraju Adinarayan

MILAN/LONDON (Reuters) - European banks have started 2020 on a strong note, much like their rivals in the United States, with a revival in bond trading offsetting pressures from negative interest rates.

The European bank shares <.SX7P> index erased all of its year-to-date losses on Thursday as strong trading and fee revenues from major banks in the region pointed to a better-than-expected earnings season.

Although BNP Paribas <BNPP.PA> had to cut profit targets on Wednesday because of the lower for longer rate environment, investors reacted positively to the French bank's bumper trading revenues.

Deutsche Bank <DBKGn.DE> reported a 5.7 billion euros (4.86 billion pounds) annual loss last week on turnaround costs but investors shrugged off the one-off impact and welcomed a jump in the bank's cash-cow bond trading business.

Deutsche's shares got another boost on Thursday when Los Angeles-based Capital Group said it had taken a 3.1% stake.

But European bank shares are trading at record low levels relative to their Wall Street rivals partly because they have been losing investment banking market share. Their share of the investment banking business dropped to 36% in the third quarter of 2019 from 45% in 2013, data from Coalition shows.

Margin pressures remain strong. But "customers' dynamism and financial markets performance enabled banks to report decent toplines," Miguel Raminhos, analyst financial institutions at Natixis in Paris, said.

"The other good news is the overall strong capital generation this quarter."


BUMPER BOND TRADING

Fourth-quarter trends at the European banks mirror that of Wall Street. JPMorgan <JPM.N> and Citi's <C.N> bond trading revenues jumped 86% and 49%, respectively.

In Europe, BNP Paribas' fixed income trading jumped 62.5% to 820 million euros and returns from equity trading and prime services rose more than three times.

More clues on how trading is faring at European banks will come when Barclays <BARC.L>, one of the biggest players in bond trading, reports its fourth-quarter results on Feb 13.

But the outperformance, in part, also reflects the weak fourth quarter in 2018 when investment banks reported a big drop in trading revenues due to a sharp sell-off in financial markets.

Goldman Sachs analysts said European banks' aggregate pre-tax profits are up more than 15% so far in the fourth-quarter reporting season, 5% ahead its own forecasts, with gains in trading and fees lifting overall revenues 3% from a year earlier.

But one quarter of outperformance does not necessarily signal a trend.

European banks still have to grapple with negative rates, slower economic growth, strict capital requirements and more fragmented markets that put them at a disadvantage compared with their U.S. rivals.

On Thursday, European banking index was up 1.6% by 1113 GMT, leading sectoral performers in the region.


(Reporting by Danilo Masoni in Milan and Thyagaraju Adinarayan in London. Editing by Jane Merriman)