Skip to main content

Is It Safe? US Bancorp's Loan Losses Loom

US Bancorp's shares, which have fallen less than those of peers, may have a ticking time bomb on its books.

TSC Ratings provides exclusive stock, ETF and mutual fund ratings and commentary based on award-winning, proprietary tools. Its "safety first" approach to investing aims to reduce risk while seeking solid outperformance on a total return basis.

US Bancorp


shares have fallen 53% over the past year, less than



, which has dropped 88%, and

Bank of America


, which has declined 80%, and the S&P financial industry, down 63%. That outperformance suggests US Bancorp is a stronger firm, but large loan balances relative to its size may lead to debilitating write-downs.

Image placeholder title

Bank analyst Mike Mayo on Monday issued a troubling report on the industry that suggested additional write-downs could top those during the Great Depression. While loan losses reaching such levels is certainly a terrifying, although unlikely, event, a slight increase over current losses could increase pressure on banks, leading to further stock-price declines.

US Bancorp is more exposed to risks from these losses than most financial institutions. As of Dec. 31, US Bancorp had loans on its balance sheet comprising more than 68% of its assets. Citigroup had 34% of its assets as loans, Bank of America, 50%, and



, 33%.

Increasing the pressure on US Bancorp are relatively minuscule cash reserves, suggesting the majority of its assets are deployed in risky securities. US Bancorp has only 2.5% of its assets in liquid accounts, while JP Morgan has 7.6% of assets available as cash, Citigroup has 10%, and Bank of America has 11%.

Unlike Citigroup, Bank of America and other ill-fated banks, US Bancorp has avoided excessive leverage, helping its share price. However, for common-stock investors, who will feel the pain from further write downs, the amount of loans on US Bancorp's books is disturbing.

As always, past performance is no guarantee of future success. The relatively low adjusted beta (a measure of volatility) of 1.27 for US Bancorp and the returns above that of the sector won't continue if these losses sour. In an investing climate with lots of instability, uncertainty about loan losses and questionable accounting practices being allowed to cover up deteriorating balance sheets, risk-averse investors should steer clear of a financial firm with this much loan exposure. Rating has US Bancorp rated as "hold" with a grade of C. Ratings, recently cited for Best Stock Selection from October 2007 through February 2009 , is an independent research provider that combines fundamental and technical analysis to offer investors tremendous value in volatile times. To see how your portfolio can use this research,

click here now!

Prior to joining Ratings, David MacDougall was an analyst at Cambridge Associates, an investment consulting firm, where he worked with private equity and venture capital funds. He graduated cum laude from Northeastern University with a bachelor's degree in finance and is a Level II CFA candidate.