It's time for the world's big banks to batten down the financial hatches, suspending their dividend payments and share repurchase programs.
That, at least, is the view of International Monetary Fund (IMF) managing director Kristalina Georgieva. She expressed her views on the subject in no uncertain terms in an editorial published Friday on the IMF's website.
Faced with widespread and perhaps long-lasting damage from the economic slowdown caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus outbreak, "[h]aving in place strong capital and liquidity positions to support fresh credit will be essential," Georgieva wrote. "One of the steps needed to reinforce bank buffers is retaining earnings from ongoing operations."
According to the IMF's calculations, 30 lenders that it considers to be "global systematically important banks," spent the equivalent of around $250 billion on dividend payouts and stock buybacks in 2019.
The "big four" American banks -- Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM), Citigroup (NYSE:C), and Wells Fargo -- are examples of this largesse. All paid dividends and repurchased their own stock throughout that year.
Each of the four has suspended its share repurchase program in the wake of the coronavirus; however, none have halted their dividend payouts or even reduced them.
The banks might be fearful that doing so could erode their stock prices further, since all have declined notably in value when compared to the major stock indexes since early March. JPMorgan Chase, for example, has fallen by nearly 23% and Citigroup by over 30%, against the slight decrease of the S&P 500 across that stretch of time.
The share prices of the quartet all sagged on Friday, in contrast to the gains posted by the broader stock market. The declines ranged from JPMorgan Chase's 0.8% drop to Citigroup's 2% slide.