Credit unions have grown to become a major factor in the U.S. economy. “Credit union assets have grown at nearly twice the pace of banks’ over the past decade.”1 Credit unions are owned by their members and are designed to offer lower borrowing costs and higher deposit rates. In addition, the median large credit union (greater than $50 million in assets) earned a return on equity (shares and reserves) of 5.9% and experienced 4% loan growth over the past year.
IDC Financial Publishing (IDCFP) focuses on 2,348 credit unions with more than $50 million in assets to determine the risks to the financial system. These larger institutions are using their strength to compete aggressively for business. The group of 2,956 credit unions with assets less than $50 million remain important to the industry but are not a major risk factor in a potential economic downturn or the overall health of our financial system.
The Risk in Large Credit Unions
IDCFP calculated the CAMEL rank of 5,304 credit unions in the first quarter of 2020. The 2,348 large credit unions account for 97% of total credit union assets and remain the potential risk factor in a future major economic downturn.
To determine this risk, we separate the credit unions ranked under 125, which is below-investment-grade and the industry standard. As of the end of the first quarter 2020, 110 large credit unions were ranked below 125 by IDCFP, up from 91 the previous quarter. This rise in institutions is the first risk alert, which is confirmed by all components of CAMEL hitting lows and rising. Most of these have, with the exception of institutions with negative liquidity which remains at 0.
The “C” in CAMEL, which represents insufficient capital reached a low of 75 in the fourth quarter of 2019 and rose to 88 in 2020Q1. The “A” in CAMEL, or adequate Tier 1 capital to meet loan delinquency, reached a low of 3 in the first quarter of 2018 and remains at 4. The “M” in CAMEL, which measures high-risk profit margins reached a low of 4 institutions in the second quarter of 2019 and has risen to 12 as of 2020Q1. The number of institutions below investment grade under “E” with negative earnings also reached a low of 40 in the fourth quarter of 2019 and rose to 63 in the first quarter of 2020.
We have seen an increase in the total number of large credit unions ranked below 125, in addition to 4 out of 5 components of CAMEL reaching lows and increasing in number. Because of these combined trends, IDCFP forecasts potential risk to come in the credit union industry, making it increasingly important to monitor (see Table I).
The Risk Seen in Credit Unions Prior to the 2008 Collapse
IDC successfully indicated a risk alert for the credit union industry as early as the fourth quarter of 2006, over a year prior to the financial and economic collapse of 2008 and 2009. Out of the 1,862 large credit unions in the third quarter of 2006, 108 were ranked below 125, or less than investment grade. The increase to 115 in the fourth quarter signaled the major risk alert for credit unions.
The “C” in CAMEL bottomed at 117 in the third quarter of 2006, but then recycled when it hit a low of 101 in the third quarter of 2007. The “A” low of 0 was in the first quarter of 2005, the “M” low of 8 was in the fourth quarter of 2005, the “E” low of 31 was much earlier, in the first quarter of 2003, and the “L” component of CAMEL was 0 in the second quarter of 2006.
In summary, IDCFP’s risk alert for the financial downturn of large credit unions, as well as, the entire credit union industry, was evident in the fourth quarter of 2006, successfully forecasting the financial problem to occur in 2008 and 2009 (see Table II).
1: How Credit Unions Outgrew Their Down-Home Reputation, Wall Street Journal, 12.3.2019
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John E Rickmeier, CFA, President, email@example.com
Robin Rickmeier, Marketing Director