Moody’s Investors Service downgraded the credit rating of 15 banks around the globe late yesterday, and five of them were American institutions. Bank of America®, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs Bank USA all took a hit to their ratings, which will likely mean increased borrowing costs for the banking giants.
That will likely raise borrowing costs for corporations and other large institutional clients of these banks, but will it have any affect on consumers?
Bartlett Naylor, a financial policy analyst for Public Citizen and the former chief of investigations for the U.S. Senate Banking Committee, says no. The rating change was reflective of Moody’s legitimate concerns about banks’ risky proprietary trading activities.
“I think these downgrades declare that banks’ gambling” — like JP Morgan’s now-infamous London trade — “means volatility in earnings.” And volatility in earnings make banks riskier to lend to. In fact, Bloomberg‘s Dawn Kopecki reports that JP Morgan’s unfortunate London trade was an “important factor” in Moody’s decision to downgrade JPM three levels, from a3 to aa3.
While borrowing costs may increase for banks, and according to Naylor, might “steer them back to useful consumer services,” he does not believe that consumers will be negatively affected.
“[Banks] will be subject to competitive pressures,” he said. Those that can maintain a solid consumer base, and do well with their fundamental business, won’t need to raise costs for consumers.
The downgrade does not bode well for the economy at large, however, which could make concerns about fees and low rates a moot point when compared to a long period of slow growth. Banking is a good business to be in when the economy is booming, and a bad one when it’s tanking. If you should care at all about Moody’s downgrades, worry not about your own relationship with your bank, but rather your relationship to the economy at large.