Banks are getting a little nervous about retail.
A new Moody’s survey of 39 certified U.S. banks found that more than 45 percent are planning to decrease their exposure to the retail sector over the next three years, despite a majority showing little to no concern about their immediate exposure to an industry facing some fundamental changes.
Moody’s analyst Megan Fox admitted the firm was “expecting a bit more concern given the headlines we’ve seen about the retail industry and its challenges” but noted this portion of the survey covered only the next 12 months.
Nevertheless, she said going forward it looks like banks have a “low appetite to lend to retail” and that Moody’s is expecting a decrease.
“One thing we heard in the responses is that the industry is facing a transformational shift that many [retailers] need to respond to, and that shift is shortening the credit cycle within the industry,” Fox said. “The financial flexibility of retailers is an important element of the business. Should you need to invest in an e-commerce platform and not have the financial flexibility to do so, that can hurt.”
As for what, if anything, could sway banks to pull further away from retail in the future, Fox said the growth of e-commerce, which is hovering around 10 percent of all retail sales right now but is the industry’s main area of growth, is viewed as a “secular change” that could add more credit risk over time.
Should the economy take a turn and see the unemployment rate creep back up or consumer spending strength be squeezed, Fox said that could create “additional pressure” on banks and their approach to retail lending.
While traditional retailers across the industry are collectively closing thousands of stores and dealing with continuously sluggish traffic and nearly 16 percent of retailers rated by Moody’s are now considered distressed, the same level as during the Great Recession, some banks aren’t scared off completely.
Moody’s found 15 percent of surveyed banks are planning to “modestly increase” their exposure to retail, but Fox said that’s “due to possible opportunities in the e-commerce sector.”
E-commerce sales have seen continued growth over the last several months and years. In April, for example, government data showed e-commerce sales grew by 2.2 percent year-over-year, while sales of apparel and accessories retailers grew by just 0.4 percent.
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