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Several U.S. banks reported a plunge in fourth-quarter profits on Thursday, hurt by a drop in interest income and charges tied to replenishing a deposit insurance fund.

Higher payouts on deposits to retain customers from chasing high-yielding alternatives have resulted in an industry-wide contraction in net interest margins for the banks that had until recently benefited from the U.S. Federal Reserve’s rate hikes.

Potential Fed rate cuts this year will likely further dent margins this year, some banks have warned.

Meanwhile, most U.S. banks are also paying the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) a fee to refill its insurance fund, used to safeguard customer deposits in case of bank failures.

On Thursday, another top regulator announced plans for new short-term liquidity rules to help lenders respond to bank runs like the ones that crushed three banks last year.

KeyCorp KEY-N posted a near 92-per-cent plunge in quarterly profit and forecast a 2-per-cent-5-per-cent drop in its net interest income in 2024. Total loans at the end of the quarter were nearly US$114-billion, 3.2 per cent lower than the year before.

Borrower appetite is “muted,” KeyCorp CEO Chris Gorman told Reuters in an interview. “There is not a lot of loan demand, there are not a lot of transactions.”

Raymond James analyst David Long said KeyCorp’s stock could be under pressure as the bank’s earnings per share get squeezed.

Shares fell 5.5 per cent to US$13.10.

Investors are closely monitoring deposit cost trends in bank earnings reports this quarter. Reuters reported earlier this month that analysts fear 2024 earnings per share at 11 U.S. regional banks will drop from a year earlier, mostly due to increased deposit costs.

“The results were not well taken. The general theme is deteriorating credit, continuing pressure on net interest margins due to higher deposit costs and little loan growth. That’s why you’re seeing pressure on some of those banks today,” said Macrae Sykes, portfolio manager at Gabelli Funds.

At Truist Financial Corp. TFC-N, one-time charges of more than US$6-billion and weaker net interest income led to it swinging to a loss. M&T Bank Corp.’s MTB-N profit plummeted 37 per cent due to higher deposit costs and the special assessment fee, while asset and wealth manager Northern Trust’s profit fell 27 per cent.

Digital banking and payments services firm Discover Financial Services DFS-N reported a 62-per-cent drop in profit on Wednesday, due to bigger provisions for potentially sour loans.

The S&P 500 financials sector index dipped 0.3 per cent.

Goldman Sachs banking analyst Ryan Nash, however, said regional banks were well positioned for 2024.

“It’s clear that we are getting closer to the trough in net interest income, which should happen by the middle of the year.”

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