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The Bank Branch: Endangered Species?

Thursday, July 16, 2015
Money and Markets
You can also access this issue on our website.
The Bank Branch: An Endangered Species?
Market Roundup
Dow +70.08 to 18,120.25
S&P +16.89 to 2,124.29
NASDAQ +64.24 to 5,163.18
10-YR Yield +0.002 to 2.352%
Gold -$2.80 to $1,144.60
Oil -$0.43 to $50.96

By Mike Larson

At Citigroup (C), we just learned that 15% have been eliminated in the past year. That leaves only 779 in North America.

At Bank of America (BAC), 234 have gone the way of the dodo in the past several months.

At JPMorgan Chase (JPM), 300 are being shuttered as we speak.

I’m talking about one of the 21st century’s biggest endangered species: the bank branch. And chances are, you’re helping eliminate them almost every single day.

How? Well, let me ask you a question: When was the last time you deposited a check with an actual bank teller? Or even at an ATM? I can’t remember personally, and for a very simple reason. I bank with Chase, and the company’s smartphone app lets me do it right from my iPhone 6!

While I haven’t taken advantage of the service yet, Chase also allows me to send money via email to someone using my phone. And of course, I can settle up my electricity and DirecTV bills just by tapping a few keys on my phone … transfer funds between my accounts … pay off my credit card and more.

Will bank branches soon be a thing of the past?

Indeed, the pruning of traditional branch networks is one of the biggest stories in banking this earnings season. More banks are talking about how they’re willing to forego physical real estate and traditional bank tellers. That’s partly because it’s cheaper for them to eliminate branches (boosting profits), and partly because they know customers are getting more and more comfortable with banking on their smartphones, rather than in branches, at ATMs or on their PCs.

Chase just said it now has 21 million “active” mobile banking users, up 50% in the last two years. At Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC), the number is around 16 million, while at Bank of America, it’s almost 18 million. Those are big numbers, and they’re only getting bigger over time.

Is there a way to profit from this trend toward mobile and person-to-person payments? Well, the gradual elimination of bank branches helps boost profit for the mega-banks. So, you could buy one or more of them. But they face other problems, from ongoing litigation costs to lackluster revenue growth.

“Is there a way to profit from this trend toward mobile and person-to-person payments?”

Ebay (EBAY) is about to spin off its PayPal Holdings unit, with trading as an independent company slated to begin July 20. That could be another avenue worth exploring, especially considering that the electronic payments company just reported a 28% rise in payments processed and an 11% gain in active accounts.

But one of my favorite companies is a highly rated bank technology provider I added to the Safe Money model portfolio a few months ago. It’s shooting the lights out, setting new highs week-in and week-out – and I have every expectation those gains will continue.

In the meantime, let me know what you think about the endangered bank branch. Is this a positive or negative trend for bank customers and bank investors? Do you use mobile banking, and if so, what are your thoughts about its convenience and reliability? What investments, if any, do you have that are helping you make money from this trend? Use the website to share your thoughts.

Our Readers Speak

Is a Bloody Wednesday crisis looming thanks to a Federal Reserve rate hike, perhaps as early as September? Is President Obama on the right track with his Iran plan? Those are just a couple of the topics you weighed in on over at the website.

Reader Bob said he doubts Fed Chairman Janet Yellen will follow up her comments with action. His view: “I’m sorry, but Ms. Yellen is a talker – a big talker! She just talks and talks and talks and does nothing. The Fed is way behind the curve and is not in touch with the reality that prices are rising on all fronts. Yet, Ms. Yellen and her fellow doves do nothing.

“I’ll believe it (any rate increase) when I see it. It was going to be last month, now September, and now her colleagues are talking 2016. What is the Fed going to do when this economy explodes, then goes into recession? It can’t cut rates. It has an almost $5 trillion balance sheet. I suppose that it will be forced to do what it is doing now – nothing!”

Reader Ray D. also expressed skepticism about an impending rate hike, albeit for a different reason: “I don’t expect the Fed to raise interest rates this year because it would strengthen the dollar even more, causing more losses to the companies doing business overseas. Not a good idea.”

But Reader Mark said the stock market is already in the process of peaking as part of the turbulent process I’ve outlined. His comments:

“As far as ‘Bloody Wednesday,’ the decline in the stock market has started. S&P peaked in June 2007 at 1408, about 14,000 Dow. By January 2008, the monthly sell signal was generated (MACD-related and other indicators) – obviously, the daily and weekly signals turned over earlier. As late as May 2008, the S&P was back at 1280, before it dropped to 520 just under a year later.

“The NEW monthly sell signal in the S&P triggered in February 2015. After that, we’ve made a new divergent top, common when you have a 400% rise over the course of six years. Make no mistake: Both weekly and monthly indicators are firmly in sell mode, with lots of room to go to the downside. The sell signal is providing loads of time to exit long positions and go short (or hedge) before a large decline occurs.”

Meanwhile, with regards to the Middle East, Reader Fred 151 was very negative on the deal with Iran. He said: “This treaty gives Iran access to billions and billions of dollars to fund their evil activities. This is money that they desperately need. The alternative was to keep the sanctions in place and to not facilitate their mad plans.

“They have publicly stated over and over and over that they intend to destroy us. We should not in any way work with them to further their goals. This is insanity.”

But Reader Paul F. said achieving peace is the most important goal in this day and age, even if it comes from a sub-standard deal. His view: “War is no longer an answer in today’s world. It has become too small. Many think of wars in monetary terms, but what amount of money can be put on a life? This comes from a Vietnam vet.”

Thanks for sharing all those comments. If I didn’t get to yours, or if you didn’t take some time to weigh in yet, make sure you visit the website soon. Your fellow investors and I want to know what you have to say.

Other Developments of the Day

BulletLots of people are sitting on their couches downloading movies and TV shows, I guess. That’s the only conclusion you can reach after looking at the latest results from Netflix (NFLX).

Shares of the online video streaming service surged after new subscriber additions doubled to 3.3 million in the second quarter. That brought the total number to 65 million, topping analyst forecasts.

BulletLawyers, lawyers everywhere – that’s what U.S. financial firms are still dealing with, years after the depths of the credit crisis. Goldman Sachs Group (GS) was just the latest example, revealing it had to set aside $1.45 billion for litigation and regulation tied to mortgage practices in the second quarter. That caused profit to drop to $1.05 billion, or $1.98 a share, from $2.04 billion, or $4.10 a share, a year earlier.

BulletInitial jobless claims dropped by 15,000 to 281,000 in the most recent period, besting estimates. We haven’t had claims below 300,000 for this long (19 straight weeks) in 15 years.

BulletWhich candidates are raking in the campaign donations early on? According to The New York Times, Hillary Clinton is at the top of the heap with $47.5 million through June 30. On the Republican side, Ted Cruz is winning with $14.3 million.

But that doesn’t include the PAC money that will also be used to back candidates. Jeb Bush has raked in $103 million from those outside groups, while Ted Cruz is in second with $38 million.

Are you writing checks to a particular candidate, and if so, why? Do you have any thoughts on the great earnings out of Netflix, or the ongoing litigation problems in the financial sector? Hit up the website and share them when you can.

Until next time,

Mike Larson

Mike Larson
Mike Larson graduated from Boston University with a B.S. degree in Journalism and a B.A. degree in English in 1998, and went to work for There, he learned the mortgage and interest rates markets inside and out. Mike then joined Weiss Research in 2001. He is the editor of Safe Money Report. He is often quoted by the Washington Post, Reuters, Dow Jones Newswires, Orlando Sentinel, Palm Beach Post and Sun-Sentinel, and he has appeared on CNN, Bloomberg Television and CNBC.
The investment strategy and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of any other editor at Weiss Research or the company as a whole.

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