Banks are keeping at arm's length from down-and-out retailers.
The largest U.S. lenders are reducing their exposure to the "beleaguered retail sector," Fitch Ratings said. "Large banks are actively reducing exposure to the most challenged retail segments and using asset-based lending to limit their retail sector risk," analysts wrote.
Aggregate exposure to the broader retail sector for big banks is approximately $230 billion, Fitch estimated. About $145 billion of that is in commercial loans, and $85 billion is in commercial real estate.
For the big banks, balance sheet exposure to retail commercial real estate represents about 14% of the banks' real estate loans and about 9% of common equity tier one capital.
Retail commercial loan exposure represents about 7% of big banks' commercial loans and 14% of their aggregate common equity tier one capital. Only 2% of aggregate portfolios are invested in commercial mortgage-backed securities that don't carry a government or government-sponsored equity guarantee, Fitch wrote.
Loan default rates for U.S. retailers have risen to 7% this year after the figure stayed below 1% for several years. Fitch said defaults will reach 10% next year as e-commerce replaces traditional brick and mortar store sales.
"The retail sector is unlikely to threaten the banks' ratings given their limited exposure, strong core earnings and healthy capital levels," Fitch wrote. "However, disruption to retailers from e-commerce underscores the need for banks to stay abreast of technological change and adjust their exposures accordingly."
Fitch said consumer staples retailers are more susceptible to disruption from online retail competition. Convenience stores and grocery stores are less likely to struggle against online retailers, but that could change with Amazon.com Inc.'s (AMZN) June acquisition of Whole Foods Market, Fitch said.
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