Capital One Financial Corporation (COF) Q4 2022 Earnings Call Transcript (2023)

Capital One Financial Corporation (NYSE:COF.PK) Q4 2022 Results Conference Call January 24, 2023 5:00 PM ET

Company Participants

Jeff Norris - SVP, Finance

Richard Fairbank - Chairman and CEO

Andrew Young - CFO

Conference Call Participants

Mihir Bhatia - Bank of America

Ryan Nash - Goldman Sachs

Betsy Graseck - Morgan Stanley

Bill Carcache - Wolfe Research

Don Fandetti - Wells Fargo

Sanjay Sakhrani - KBW

Arren Cyganovich - Citi

Richard Shane - JP Morgan

Moshe Orenbuch - Credit Suisse

John Pancari - Evercore ISI


Good day, and thank you for standing by. Welcome to the Fourth Quarter 2022 Capital One Financial Earnings Conference Call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. After the speakers’ presentation, there will be a question-and-answer session. [Operator Instructions] Please be advised that today’s conference is being recorded.

I would now like to hand the conference over to your speaker today, Jeff Norris, Senior Vice President of Finance. Please go ahead.

Jeff Norris

Thank you very much, Victor. And welcome everybody to Capital One’s fourth quarter 2022 earnings conference call. As usual, we are webcasting live over the internet. To access the call on the internet, please log on to Capital One’s website at and follow the links from there.

In addition to the press release and financials, we have included a presentation summarizing our fourth quarter 2022 results. With me this evening are Mr. Richard Fairbank, Capital One’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer; and Mr. Andrew Young, Capital One’s Chief Financial Officer. Rich and Andrew will walk you through the presentation. To access a copy of the presentation and the press release, please go to Capital One’s website, click on Investors and click on Quarterly Earnings Release.

Please note that this presentation may contain forward-looking statements. Information regarding Capital One’s financial performance and any forward-looking statements contained in today’s discussion and the materials speak only as of the particular date or dates indicated in the materials. Capital One does not undertake any obligation to update or revise any of this information, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise.

Numerous factors could cause our actual results to differ materially from those described in forward-looking statements. For more information on these factors, please see the section titled, Forward-Looking Information in the earnings release presentation and the Risk Factors section in our annual and quarterly reports, which are accessible at Capital One’s website and filed with the SEC.

With that, I’ll turn the call over to Mr. Young. Andrew?

Andrew Young

Thanks, Jeff, and good afternoon, everyone.

I’ll start on slide 3 of tonight’s presentation. In the fourth quarter, Capital One earned $1.2 billion or $3.03 per diluted common share. For the full year, Capital One earned $7.4 billion or $17.91 per share. Included in the results for the fourth quarter were two adjusting items, which collectively benefited pretax earnings by $105 million. Net of these adjustments, fourth quarter earnings per share were $2.82 and full year earnings performance share were $17.71.

On a linked quarter basis, period-end loans grew 3% and average loans grew 2%, driven by growth in our domestic car business. This loan growth coupled with net interest margin expansion drove revenue up 3% on a linked quarter basis.

Noninterest expense grew 3% in the linked quarter, driven by an increase in marketing expenses while operating expenses were largely flat. Net of the adjustments I mentioned earlier, operating expenses were up 2.4%. Provision in the quarter -- provision expense in the quarter was $2.4 billion, driven by net charge-offs of $1.4 billion and an allowance build of about $1 billion.

Turning to slide 4, I will cover the changes in our allowance in greater detail. The $1 billion increase in allowance in the fourth quarter brings our total company year-end allowance balance up to $13.2 billion, increasing the total company coverage ratio by 22 basis points to 4.24%. I’ll cover the changes in allowance and coverage ratio by segment on slide 5.

In our Domestic Card business, the allowance balance increased by $795 million, bringing our coverage ratio to 6.97%. Three things put upward pressure on our card allowance. The first factor was the continued credit normalization in our portfolio. The second factor was a modestly worse economic outlook than our assumption a quarter ago. And finally, we built allowance for the loan growth in the quarter. The impact of the fourth quarter loan growth on the allowance is more muted than typical loan growth given the seasonal nature of these balances. These three factors were modestly offset by a release in our qualitative factors.

In our Consumer Banking segment, the allowance balance increased by $129 million, driving a 20 basis-point increase in coverage to 2.8%. The build was primarily driven by continued credit normalization in our auto business, including lower recovery rates. The second factor also putting upward pressure on our allowance is the impact of a modestly worse economic outlook. These two factors were modestly offset by a release in our qualitative factors.

And finally, in our Commercial business, the allowance increased $73 million, resulting in a 9 basis-point increase in coverage to 1.54%. This was largely driven by reserve builds for our office portfolio.

Turning to page 6, I’ll discuss liquidity. You can see our preliminary average liquidity coverage ratio during the fourth quarter was 143%, well above the 100% regulatory requirement. Total liquidity reserves increased by $14 billion to $107 billion. Strong consumer deposit growth throughout the quarter drove cash balances higher and allowed us to pay down prior FHLB borrowings.

Turning to page 7, I’ll cover our net interest margin. Our net interest margin was 6.84% in the fourth quarter, 24 basis points higher than the year-ago quarter and 4 basis points higher than the prior quarter. The 4 basis-point linked quarter increase in NIM was driven by higher asset yields and a balance sheet mix shift towards car loans. This impact was mostly offset by higher deposit and wholesale funding costs.

(Video) Capital One Financial Corporation $COF Q4 2022 Earnings Call

Turning to slide 8, I will end by discussing our capital position. Our common equity Tier 1 capital ratio was 12.5% at the end of the fourth quarter, up about 30 basis points relative to last quarter. The $1.2 billion of net income in the quarter was partially offset by growth in risk-weighted assets, dividends and share repurchases. We repurchased approximately $150 million of common stock in the quarter, bringing the repurchases for the full year to $4.8 billion. We continue to estimate that our longer term CET1 capital need is around 11%.

With that, I will turn the call over to Rich. Rich?

Richard Fairbank

Thank you, Andrew, and welcome, everybody.

I’ll begin on slide 10 with fourth quarter results in our Credit Card business. Year-over-year growth in purchase volume and loans, coupled with strong revenue margin drove an increase in revenue compared to the fourth quarter of 2021. Credit Card segment results are largely a function of our domestic card results and trends, which are shown on slide 11.

In the fourth quarter, strong year-over-year growth in every top line metric continued in our Domestic Card business. Purchase volume for the fourth quarter was up 9% from the fourth quarter of 2021. Ending loan balances increased $22.9 billion or about 21% year-over-year. Ending loans grew 8% from the sequential quarter. And revenue was up 19% year-over-year, driven by the growth in purchase volume and loans as well as strong revenue margin. Both the charge-off rate and the delinquency rate continued to normalize and were below pre-pandemic levels.

The domestic card charge-off rate for the quarter was 3.2%, up 173 basis points year-over-year. The 30-plus delinquency rate at quarter-end was 3.43%, 121 basis points above the prior year. On a linked quarter basis, the charge-off rate was up 102 basis points and the delinquency rate was up 46 basis points. Noninterest expense was up 12% from the fourth quarter of 2021, which includes an increase in marketing.

Total company marketing expense was about $1.1 billion in the quarter. Our choice in domestic card marketing are the biggest driver of total company marketing. In our Domestic Card business, we continue to lean into marketing to drive resilient growth. We’re keeping a close eye on competitor actions and potential marketplace risks. We’re seeing the success of our marketing and strong growth in domestic card new accounts, purchase volume and loans across our card business and strong momentum in our decade-long focus on heavy spenders at the top of the marketplace continues.

Slide 12 shows fourth quarter results for our Consumer Banking business. In the fourth quarter, we continued to see the effects of our choice to pull back on auto growth in response to competitive pricing dynamics that have pressured industry margins. Auto originations declined 32% year-over-year and 20% from the linked quarter.

Driven by the decline in auto originations, Consumer Banking loan growth continued to be slower than previous quarters. Fourth quarter ending loans grew 3% compared to the year ago quarter. On a linked-quarter basis, ending loans were down 2%. Fourth quarter ending deposits in the Consumer Bank were up 6% year-over-year, and up 5% over the sequential quarter. Average deposits were up 4% year-over-year and up 3% from the sequential quarter. Our digital-first national direct banking strategy continues to get good traction.

Consumer Banking revenue was up 10% year-over-year as growth in auto loans and deposits was partially offset by the year-over-year decline in auto margins. Noninterest expense was up 13% compared to the fourth quarter of 2021, driven by investments in the digital capabilities of our auto and retail banking businesses and marketing for our national digital bank.

The auto charge-off rate and delinquency rate continued to normalize in the fourth quarter. The charge-off rate for the fourth quarter was 1.66%, up 108 basis points year-over-year. The 30-plus delinquency rate was 5.62%, up 130 basis points year-over-year. On a linked quarter basis, the charge-off rate was up 61 basis points, and the 30-plus delinquency rate was up 77 basis points.

Slide 13 shows fourth quarter results for our Commercial Banking business. Compared to the linked quarter, fourth quarter ending loan balances were down 1% and average loans were flat. Ending deposits were down 1% from the linked quarter. Average deposits grew 7%.

Fourth quarter revenue was down 23% from the linked quarter. The decline was primarily driven by an internal funds transfer pricing impact that was offset by an equivalent increase in the other category and was therefore neutral to the Company. Excluding this impact, fourth quarter commercial revenue would have been down about 6% quarter-over-quarter and up 2% year-over-year.

Noninterest expense was up 2% from the linked quarter. The Commercial Banking annualized charge-off rate was 6 basis points. The criticized performing loan rate increased 74 basis points from the linked quarter to 6.71%, and the criticized nonperforming loan rate was up 17 basis points from the linked quarter to 0.74%.

In closing, we continue to drive strong growth in card revenue, purchase volume and loans in the fourth quarter. Loan growth in our Consumer Banking business was slower compared to previous quarters as we continued to pull back on auto originations. Consumer deposits grew. And in our Commercial Banking business, ending loans and deposits were roughly flat compared to the linked quarter. Charge-off rates and delinquency rates continue to normalize across our business and were below pre-pandemic levels. Total company operating expense net of adjustments was up 2.4% from the linked quarter. Our annual operating efficiency ratio for full year 2022 was 44.5% net of adjustments, a 15 basis points improvement from full year 2021. And we expect that the full year 2023 annual operating efficiency ratio net of adjustments will be roughly flat to modestly down compared to 2022.

Pulling way up, we continue to see opportunities for resilient asset growth that can deliver sustained revenue annuities. We continue to closely monitor and assess competitive dynamics and economic uncertainty. Powered by our modern digital technology, we’re continuously improving our proprietary underwriting, marketing and product capabilities. We’re focusing on efficiency improvement and we’re managing capital prudently. As a result of our investments to transform our technology and to drive resilient growth, we’re in a strong position to deliver compelling long-term shareholder value and thrive in a broad range of possible economic scenarios.

And now, we’ll be happy to answer your questions. Jeff?

Jeff Norris

Thank you, Rich. We’ll now start the Q&A session. As a courtesy to our other investors and analysts who might wish to ask a question, please limit yourself to one question plus a single follow-up. If you have any follow-up questions after the Q&A session, Investor Relations team will be available after the call. Victor, please start the Q&A.

Question-and-Answer Session


Thank you. One moment for our first question. Our first question comes from line of Mihir Bhatia from Bank of America.

Mihir Bhatia

I wanted to ask about just the vintage seasoning or growth math as you talk -- as I think we’ve talked about in the past. We’ve added a lot of loans here in last year. And as these loans season, I was just trying to -- wonder if you could maybe talk about just how you see that flowing through into your loss rates and what that does to your delinquency and loss goes here over the next 12 to 24 months? Thank you.

Richard Fairbank

Yes. Thank you. Let me just start with a reminder of what we mean by growth math. As a general rule of thumb, losses on new loans tend to ramp up over a couple of years and then peak and then gradually come down. When we accelerate growth and especially when those new loans are added to a seasoned back book with low losses, it can increase the overall level of losses of a portfolio. We grew rapidly -- for example, just looking back at when we talk a lot about growth math, we grew rapidly in 2014, 2015 and 2016, and had a particularly visible growth math effect in the wake of that growth. At that time, the large front book was adding to a back book that was unusually seasoned because it had survived the Great Recession.

Given our recent rate of growth, I think it’s likely we’ll see some growth math effect again over the next few years. But I think the general normalization trend will be the bigger driver of our credit trajectory.

One other thing that’s different about growth math going forward is CECL. Under the CECL accounting regime, the allowance impact of new growth are pulled forward significantly. We haven’t seen this effect for most of the pandemic, even as we have accelerated our growth because of the offsetting favorable factors in our allowance. But as our growth continues, a portion of our allowance builds going forward are intended to support that growth.

Mihir Bhatia

Okay. Thanks. And then just maybe on your reserve. Just trying to understand just some of the assumptions underlying the reserves. Maybe you could just talk about what you’re assuming for unemployment whether you have a recession built into the short term. Any additional color you can help us with there? Thank you.

Andrew Young

Sure Mihir. As I said in the past, we are largely consumers of economic assumptions. In this particular case for unemployment, we are assuming something that’s a little modestly higher than consensus estimates for where we will land in the fourth quarter. I think consensus is somewhere around 4.8. We’re -- our baseline forecast gets up to around 5% in the fourth quarter. But it’s important to note there’s a lot of other things that go into the calculation of the reserve, things like unemployment -- sorry, changes in the unemployment rate, inflation, home prices, wages, all of those factors matter as well, but our unemployment assumption is to be around 4% in the fourth quarter -- sorry, around 5% in the fourth quarter.


And our next question comes from the line of Ashish Sharma with Capital One.

Jeff Norris

Hey Victor, I don’t think that’s right.

Ryan Nash

Was that intended for me, Jeff?

(Video) COF Stock | Capital One Financial Corporation Q4 2021 Earnings Call

Jeff Norris

Hey Ryan, why you don’t go ahead.

Ryan Nash

So Rich, maybe I can ask Mihir’s -- one of Mihir’s questions in a slightly different manner. So, competitors in the industry are talking about reaching pre-pandemic loss levels by year-end or maybe even overshooting those levels. Can you maybe just talk a little bit about how you think about the pace of normalization or maybe even overshooting those? And maybe just talk a little bit about normalization versus parts of the portfolio if you’re actually seeing any deterioration. Thanks. And I have a follow-up.

Richard Fairbank

Okay. Thanks, Ryan. So consumer credit metrics remain strong. And of course, as we’ve seen, they’ve been normalizing steadily through 2022 and are approaching pre-pandemic levels. At first, normalization was more pronounced in some segments more than others. It was -- of course -- and by the way, this is always the case that front book, new originations tend to be higher. So, that would have been shocking, had it been different. But the other thing we also said and talked to investors about it was more -- normalization was happening everywhere, but it was more pronounced at the lower end of the market. More recently, we’ve actually seen more uniform trend of normalization across businesses and segments, so, for example, across various FICO ranges and also across income levels. When we index them on credit metrics back to where they were before the pandemic, the sort of rest of the credit spectrum and rest of the income spectrums caught up to the, very recently in the last few months, to the lower end. So really, if I pull on that, it looks like the normalization is pretty consistent across the board. And -- yes, go ahead, Ryan.

Ryan Nash

No, no, go for it. I’ll ask my follow-up when you finish.

Richard Fairbank

So, you asked various competitors are forecasting or talking about different times at which things cross 2019 levels. I think at Capital One, we’re not making specific predictions on that. But I think the key thing I would have you look at is the delinquency metrics. Delinquency metrics are the best single predictor of where things are going to go in the near term. And in fact, if we look at flow rates, we can see that very early flow rates into delinquency buckets are pretty normalized. So, we’re not giving specific guidance. But we would say, look at the credit metrics, look at the dynamics across other metrics, but we feel this is -- it’s clearly normalizing as we see it.

Ryan Nash

Got it. And then, Rich, maybe to follow up on the comments regarding the efficiency being flat to modestly down. I think last quarter, you were talking about modest efficiency improvements. There have been headlines about the firm reducing some headcount. So, I’m just curious, has anything changed in terms of your expectations for efficiency improvement? I guess given the pace of revenue growth that’s expected and contemplated, is there any acceleration in investments that’s taking place to drive the stable to modestly efficient -- improving efficiency? Thank you.

Richard Fairbank

Yes. Ryan, our efficiency outlook is exactly the same as it was last quarter. If you recall, actually, we guided to the -- for full year 2022 for efficiency to be flat -- basically kind of flat to 2021, and then modestly down for 2023 relative to 2021. What happened is that ‘22 came in a little bit lower. So, our guidance of flat to modestly down, it’s the same outlook as we had before. And so, there’s not big investments behind that. It’s a continued journey of Capital One to lean into our opportunities to continue to invest in the tech opportunities that we see and the opportunities to create breakthroughs in the marketplace and continue to transform how we work. But pulling way up the sort of story if you kind of pull way back on operating efficiency, the journey that where we’ve driven 440 basis points of improvement from 2013 -- well, through 2019. And then we had the whole pandemic thing. But if I pull way up the gradual operating efficiency improvement is what we are continuing to drive for through the leveraging of our tech transformation even as we continue to invest.


And our next question comes from the line of Betsy Graseck of Morgan Stanley.

Betsy Graseck

So two questions. One, just as we think about the margin and the net interest margin, interest margin outlook, -- can you give us a sense as to how you’re thinking about deposit betas and how that’s likely to grow here over the course of the year. I noticed you talked a little bit earlier about deposit growth was really strong. Maybe give us a sense as to which types of deposits you’re really leaning into at this stage. And then help us understand how asset yields are likely to trend given -- forward curve, I’m assuming is the base case, but tell me if you have a different point of view on that. Thanks.

Andrew Young

Yes. Betsy, I’ll start with your last question first, which is we are following the forward curve, assuming 50 bps here in the first quarter and holding flat throughout ‘23 before coming down in ‘24. With respect to how we’re thinking about beta and asset yields as components of NIM, as we get into the latter part of this rate cycle, lagged deposit rates really have a bigger impact than the asset yields that reprice more quickly and did so over the last couple of quarters as the Fed was moving rapidly. And so, there’s a bit of that sequential dynamic going on.

In terms of thinking about overall deposit beta and product mix, roughly 85% of our deposits are in consumer. It’s where our focus lies. And so if you just look at the cumulative deposit beta for the total company, it’s around 35%, was low-20s last quarter. But if you look at the last increasing rate cycle, I think the terminal beta was around 41. So, I could see a terminal beta being somewhere above that, just given competitive dynamics in the marketplace at this point. So, I would say the net of all of those factors is likely to be a modest headwind to NIM.

We talked last quarter about balance sheet mix -- and we are largely back to a pre-pandemic balance sheet mix from where we were a year ago. And frankly, our NIM is roughly in a similar spot. So, I would say balance sheet mix over a multiple quarter period isn’t likely to be a big driver, unless we just see outsized growth in the higher-margin card business. And then, the other factor that could prove to be a tailwind to potentially offset a little bit of the modest headwind that probably comes from the beta dynamics that I described is we could also see a bit of an increase in card revolve rates from where they are today.

So, all of those things are -- just to leave you with kind of a net impression that there are headwinds and potentially some tailwinds. But the one thing I will just note as we look ahead to the first quarter, as a reminder, in the way we calculate NIM day count has an effect. So, the one thing we know for sure is we’ll have a 14 basis-point or so headwind in Q1 due to having two fewer days in the quarter.

Betsy Graseck

Okay. That’s super helpful color. As a follow-up, I just wanted to get a sense as to how you’re thinking about the outlook for marketing, obviously, a critical driver of growth, and I know it’s been something that you’ve been very successful with in generating that top of wallet customer. But just wanted to see how we should think about that investment as we go into the next year with this NIM headwind, et cetera. Thanks.

Richard Fairbank

Betsy, yes, we continue to -- I feel very good about the traction that we’re getting in marketing. Of course, most of the marketing that we do is in the card business. We continue to see attractive growth opportunities across the business for new account origination. We have continued to expand our products and the marketing channels that we’re originating in. We see evidence all over the place of the benefits of our tech transformation that’s giving us some extra opportunity. So, we feel very good about that.

You mentioned, of course, how do we feel about leaning into this in the context of the potential looming downturn. And what we do is we just continue to look all around the edges of our originations and look for places that either we would think might be particularly likely to have a challenge or be vulnerable or things that we see having any kind of performance issues, and we sort of trim around the edges. That’s what we’ve been doing for three decades at Capital One, and we continue to do this.

So there’s a little bit of trimming around the edges. But really, the net impression I would lead you on the card side is we continue to lean in. Now, of course, there’s the marketing that we do just the -- to originate accounts directly through all the direct marketing media. We, of course, have our continued investments on the brand side, we -- the heavy spender investments, which are particularly heavy in terms of marketing costs. We continue to get very good traction on the spender side, our growth as you sort of look at each sort of range of spenders, the -- we are getting the most growth at the higher end. So, that continues to be a good sign for us. And so, we’re leaning into that. And then the other thing on the marketing side, of course, is the national bank marketing. You’ve seen some of the success we’re having there. Everybody in banking is sort of leaning into the deposit growth side in the context of changing interest rates, and some deposits leading the banking systems. So our marketing venues to get very good traction there. So pulling way up, we continue to feel good about the marketing. We like the traction that we’re getting. And we have, of course, a very vigilant eye on the economic environment that we’re moving into.


Our next question comes from the line of Bill Carcache with Wolfe Research.

Bill Carcache

Rich, I wanted to follow up on your commentary around delinquency metrics. At the current pace of normalization, is it reasonable to expect that we could see DQs get back to pre-pandemic levels by the mid-2023 time frame? And then from there, does your outlook suggest that you expect delinquencies to flatten out, or are you conservatively expecting DQs to drift higher and are prepared for some degree of modest worsening in credit that perhaps goes a bit beyond normalization?

Richard Fairbank

Well, what we have said, Bill, is there are lots of metrics to look at, and I can even talk to you about a few -- some of the others we’re looking at as well. But number one, that we would point our investors to look at is delinquency. And delinquency entries and individual delinquency flow rates have -- we see the normalization happening there, as I mentioned earlier. And we think the there continues -- it’s interesting the -- when you look at the delinquencies themselves and most of the credit metrics, they continue to just keep on moving toward what we’re calling sort of normalization. Normalization, of course, is not any precise point. But there are also a number of other things that we look at that I think show sort of the strength of where this thing is headed. And one is on the vintage curves from new originations. They continue to be pretty flat month after month. They’re, of course, lagged by several months, but pretty flat. And in -- when we compare individual segments to where they were back in the pre-pandemic period. It’s pretty much on top of each other.

So, that is a good sign. We continue to look at our payment rates, which continue to be elevated. We like elevated payment rates that we’ve assumed they’re going to normalize part of the way down to where they were before. But of course, there’s been some mix shift towards more spender within Capital One’s portfolio. But payment rates continue to be strong. The percent of customers making just the minimum payment is still below pre-pandemic levels. The percent of customers making full payments is above pre-pandemic levels. Revolve rate is roughly flat relative to last year and remains below pre-pandemic. So, these are all things that are positive indicators. But I do want to say also, again, there’s been some mix change in our own portfolio with a bit of a shift toward the heavier spenders. So, many of these metrics may not fully get back to where they were pre-pandemic. But if we pull up on this, what we see is -- nothing we see is surprising. It would be consistent with a consumer coming off of some of the extreme stimulus and some of the extreme pullbacks in the pandemic and returning to more normal behavior. And I think the delinquency metrics are certainly leading indicators of that trajectory.

Bill Carcache

That’s very helpful, Rich. Thank you. If I may, as a follow-up, separate topic. Can you give us an update on Capital One’s strategy for reducing friction at checkout with different electronic consumer wallet solutions. There have been some recent press reports regarding partnerships with other digital wallet providers. It would be helpful if you could just share your latest thoughts.

Jeff Norris

(Video) COF Stock | Capital One Financial Corporation Q2 2021 Earnings Call

Before you go, we’re getting a lot of background noise, Bill. Could you go on mute?

Bill Carcache


Richard Fairbank

So, a phrase that I’ve often used is the tip of the spear in the transformation of banking is payments, both on the consumer and the commercial side. And the reason I say this is that first of all, it’s very prone to significant changes in technology, and also, it’s not as heavily regulated a space as much of banking is. You don’t have to be a bank holding company to be doing a lot of those things. And that’s actually the area that we have seen certainly a lot of traction in -- by some very successful tech company. So, Capital One has -- we continue to support the various technology players who have developed payment innovations, and we continue to develop innovations of our own. There were some news out about in the news today, in fact, about potentially a new wallet coming out. We are 1 of 7 co-owners of EWS. And we’re one of the thousands of banks that use EWS. But on that one, we really don’t have any specific comments to get ahead of the EWS management team on that.


And our next question comes from the line of Don Fandetti with Wells Fargo.

Don Fandetti

Rich, I was wondering if you can talk a little bit about your thoughts on auto credit. And then, as a follow-up, what you’re seeing on credit card spend, in particular, heavy spenders and whether or not they can sustain for travel and spend numbers.

Richard Fairbank

Okay. Thank you, Don. In auto, let’s talk a little bit about the auto business and maybe a little bit of a comparison to the card business. Just to talk about -- auto as many of the very same trends. It is all the same general trends going on with the consumer and the normalization that we have been talking about. The auto business also has some other things that are unique to it. Auto recoveries, for example. Auto recoveries inventories are unusually low because of the very low charge-offs that we’ve had in the past few years. The past charge-offs are basically the raw material for future recoveries. So, the generally good news that has been in the auto industry of robust used car prices actually puts upward pressure on our overall loss rate as recoveries inventory build.

So, we also, in terms of the credit metrics, we have seen more degradation in the very, very low and mostly below where we play in the auto business, but we have trimmed a little bit around the edges at our own low end. But basically, we continue to feel very good about our originations. From a credit point of view, the biggest issue in auto is the margin pressure that has come from the rising interest rates that have not been fully passed through by the competition. So we continue to feel really good about the auto opportunity, but our pullback is really not a credit-driven pullback so much as it is a margin-driven pullback. But we certainly do see the -- we can see the normalization in the auto business.

Don Fandetti

Okay. And then on the credit card spend, same story. Are you seeing moderation? And can you talk about heavy spenders trends?

Richard Fairbank

Yes. We -- you’ll notice our own spend growth numbers moderated quite a bit this quarter. We are seeing spend per account per customer moderate across our portfolio, moderating the most at the lower end, but we see the moderation. We see it the least in the very heaviest spenders, but the moderation that you see in our spend growth metrics are driven really by what’s happening per account, we continue to get nice growth of accounts. So that is a phenomenon that -- and then we kind of ask, well, what should we be rooting for? I think you’re seeing a very rational response by consumers to the environment. There was a big surge in spending. I think it’s moderating somewhat, particularly at places other than the very highest end of the marketplace. So, I think it’s basically a sign of consumers being rational.


Sanjay Sakhrani with KBW.

Sanjay Sakhrani

Thank you. Andrew, first question for you on share repurchases. Maybe you could just help us think about the pace of share repurchases as we move forward because I know you guys slowed them down, but you’ve been building capital. Maybe you can just help us with that first.

Andrew Young

Sure, Sanjay. In terms of thinking about the capital that we have moved down over the course of the last couple of years from -- in the 14 to we hit a low point of 12.1, a couple quarters ago. But as we sit here today, we’re just looking at the actual and forecasted levels and the earnings and growth and in particular, economic conditions, and there’s some pretty wide error bars around those factors, particularly with respect to growth and economic uncertainty. And so, we feel like at this moment in time that it’s good to be a little bit more on the conservative side with risk management of managing that capital. But clearly, we have the flexibility around our capital decisions under SCBs. And so -- and I don’t know, Rich, if you wanted to make any comments about repurchases as well.

Richard Fairbank

Yes. Well, we -- I think we just continue to generate a lot of capital. And we -- a central part of our strategy is the return of capital through share repurchases and dividends. Lately, we’ve dialed back a little bit on that just really as a measure of prudence in an unusually uncertain time like this. I think there’s -- I’ve never met anyone who sort of says that they had too much capital in a downturn. So after very strong levels of buybacks, we’ve moderated here in this environment, but the strategy of Capital One continues to be the same. And we believe that return of capital is an important part of the economic equation for investors over time.

Sanjay Sakhrani

So, should we assume sort of the fourth quarter pace as a good run rate or just not assume anything?

Andrew Young

Yes. Sanjay, we’re just going to manage it dynamically based on what we see in the marketplace and the factors that I described before. So, at this point, you’ve seen what we’ve been doing over the last handful of months, roughly $50 million a month. But again, we have flexibility, and as we have a bit more certainty of how the coming quarters will play out, that’s going to inform our actions.


Our next question comes from the line of Arren Cyganovich with Citi.

Arren Cyganovich

Maybe you could just talk a little bit about the level of marketing growth for the year. You had a bit of a step up, I’d say, in 2022 and the growth rates there are obviously showing a lot of traction in most of your metrics. Is there essentially kind of a bit of a slowdown but still have the ability to continue to grow and get into the opportunity on the card side?

Richard Fairbank

Yes. Arren, yes, marketing -- the marketing story has several components to it. One is just the -- and an important part of that is the sort of real-time response to the opportunities that we see. And we continue -- and especially talking about card and of course, card is where most of the marketing is. But, we continue to see attractive growth opportunities really across our business and are leaning into them. So that -- and it’s corresponded with some expansion in opportunities that are just a byproduct of our tech transformation, and it’s just more access points, more channels, more better credit models that give a little bit deeper and wider access to opportunities and more granularity. The more granularity that we get from our models, actually, the more we can separate the attractive customers from the less attractive and it allows us to lean in more. So, the marketing -- the pursuit of the real-time opportunities we see is an important part of the marketing, and that is going very well.

The second important driver, of course, is the continued traction we’re getting in our really 10-year journey to drive more and more upmarket with focus on heavy spenders. And I think back to when we launched the Venture card in 2010. And -- but of course, this journey -- and we’ve been declaring for years that the pursuit of the top of the market is not something that is an opportunistic one of in and out. And it is much more about working backwards from what it takes to win with heavy spenders and then investing to be able to do that. And that’s about great products with heavy reward content, great servicing, exceptional digital experiences but also more and more of the experiences that are consistent with the very high end lifestyle and so on. So, there have been a bunch of investments there. Most of that -- not all of it, but a lot of that shows up in marketing.

That also has a significant upfront component in terms of not only the direct marketing and the brand building, but also the early spend bonuses that go right through the marketing line when we -- at the early stage of these accounts. So, that’s something that we’ve been growing and sustaining over the last number of years. We love the traction that we’re getting. And so, we continue to lean into that. And then again, the national bank, where I just want to comment, we are really pleased with the national bank that we’ve built. This is a -- we are the really only kind of full service national bank that is -- doesn’t have a national quest to -- through acquisition to continue to grow. In other words, of all the banks our size or even smaller, the realistic path to growth is to do that through mergers and acquisitions, our path is an organic one. We’ve invested quite a bit to create full digital capabilities for almost everything you can do in a branch to be able to be done by a customer digitally. And so that our growth story is not just about savings accounts, but it’s very much about checking accounts as well. And this is our quest we’ve been on for some number of years to build a national bank. That also is -- that’s physical distribution light and marketing heavy. So a bunch of things kind of come together to create the pretty big marketing levels that we have now, but we feel very good about the traction that we’re getting.

Jeff Norris


Our next question comes from the line of Richard Shane with JP Morgan.

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Richard Shane

Andrew, you’ve made the comment talking about the reserve rate on the card portfolio and reflecting the seasonality of the increase in spend and balances from spend-driven accounts. As we move into Q1, should we assume that with normal portfolio runoff but a mix shift that that allowance coverage ratio will actually pick up then because you’re going to get a mix shift?

Andrew Young

Well, there’s a number of factors, Rick, that will play into coverage ratio. So, why don’t I just pull up and lay out the key pieces and forecast assumptions of our allowance. And I will get to your kind of seasonal balance point in a moment. But I think it’s important to lay out all of the component parts rather than just talk about one individual one since all of them will affect where coverage goes from here. So, the first part of the allowance is we’re using models to estimate the next 12 months of losses. And the early period of this forecast is generally more accurate because, as Rich was talking about earlier, we can look at the existing delinquency inventories and flow rates, beyond those months we incorporate in the economic assumptions, they become a more significant driver of expected loss content. I referenced that in the answer to the first question that was asked on the call, but the error bars around the loss content widened the further we go out over the course of the year.

The second factor impacting the allowances, we start from the year one exit rate for losses and then assume a reversion to a long-term average over the following 12 months. And then, the third thing is we net forecasted recoveries against the loss estimates for all of those periods. And so, on top of all of those assumptions, we then put qualitative factors in places where we believe modeled outcomes have limitations. And so, we end up putting all of those pieces together to evaluate the allowance.

The open-ended product of credit card is different than closed-end loans as we go through those mechanics because with closed-end loans, we’re reserving for estimated loss content for the account. But in a revolving product like card, we’re only able to reserve for the loss content related to the balances that are on the books at the end of the quarter as opposed to the projected loss content for the account. So getting to your question then, when we have elevated seasonal balances in the fourth quarter, we expect a portion of those balances to pay down very quickly. And therefore, those specific balances are likely to have very, very low loss content given the life of the balance is far shorter than the life of the account. So all else equal, the coverage ratio in the fourth quarter has a bit of natural downward pressure from that elevated denominator as you suggest. But looking ahead, there’s a bunch of factors that can impact where the allowance goes from here beyond that single effect. In periods where future losses may increase we would replace the low loss content of the current quarter with the projected higher loss content in a future period. And for what it’s worth, those assumptions also then carry into that reversion period.

As we have growth with seasonally adjusted balances, Rich mentioned this before, CECL significantly pulls forward that allowance cost of growth. And then the third factor is coming out of a period where we have unusually low losses like we’ve experienced, over the last couple of quarters, you have lower recoveries to offset the forecasted loss content. So, all of those things can put upward pressure on allowance but we can also have revisions to our economic assumptions, to delinquency flow rates, to just our overall loss content. And so, there’s pressures in the other direction.

And so, I appreciate your bearing with me for a long-winded complex answer, but I think we all saw the complexity and pro-cyclicality of CECL play out during the pandemic when we had to make a bunch of assumptions as the pandemic played out, we built a sizable allowance only to release virtually all of it over the subsequent quarters. And so, it’s just a very difficult thing to predict given all of the assumptions at play, which is why we are trying to focus you on Mako [ph] and having delinquencies as a leading edge indicator of Mako because that is ultimately where the real economic cost is felt.

Richard Shane

Got it. No, it’s a great answer, and I’m glad to bear with you. I’ll probably read it in the transcript about 7 more times.


Our next question comes from the line of Moshe Orenbuch with Credit Suisse.

Moshe Orenbuch

And I was hoping to talk a little bit about marketing. I mean, Rich, you did mention that you were primarily in card and primarily in the upscale customer. But could you just talk a little bit about, number one, what you might be doing kind of in nonprime and how we should think about whether that total marketing spend given what you see is likely to be higher in ‘23 or not?

Richard Fairbank

Yes. So Moshe, I’m glad you asked the question because I would not want the net impression to be -- I think what you were saying is that, is our marketing primarily just in the upscale customer segment? Differentially relative to years ago, we’ve certainly had a shift to the higher end in terms of our marketing. The marketing is also so expensive at that end. And then, also the marketing at the higher end tends to, in some sense, lift the boats across the franchise. So, the marketing at the higher end is carrying a lot on its shoulders, Moshe. But, we do a lot of marketing in the mass market of the card business, including in the higher end of the subprime segment of the market. This is -- our strategy here is -- well, it changes all -- we tweak it around the edges all the time. We’ve been doing this for pretty much approaching three decades now, at the lower end of the market. And the marketing there is direct marketing, stimulus response, very information based. And so, the marketing machine that we’ve built, which has been enhanced by technology here is definitely leaning into that opportunity.

And I do want to say that the -- we continue to get good traction in the subprime and prime parts of the marketplace, even as we certainly relative to 10 years ago, have a lot more marketing going on at the top of the market. So, there’s quite a bit going on, and we feel good about the traction there.

Moshe Orenbuch

Got it. Maybe just to kind of -- as a follow-up, what would it take for you to see, either in the portfolio or in the market for you to do less marketing?

Richard Fairbank

Yes. The way this tends to happen is it happens in one little segment, one micro segment at the margin in response to things that we see going on there. I use this phrase a lot, trimming around the edges. And you’ve heard me use that for many, many years. And this is something that we always do or something we’re expanding around the edges. The net feel of these days is we’re doing more trimming around the edges than expanding around the edges, but it is -- so it’s less about at the top of the house saying, we just believe we should do -- obviously, at the top of the house, we’re looking at all the macro things, but we’re linking what we see in the macro level to what we’re seeing right there in real time or the earliest we can see from our credit metrics. And then, using the technology we’ve continued to invest so heavily in to have a more and more granular diagnosis. And at an earlier time than ever before diagnosis of where anything is deviating from the trajectory that we would expect.

And then one is sort of the diagnosis of deviation. And the second thing, of course, is trying to get sort of a root cause, understanding of what may be driving that. And this is something that we continue to put a lot of energy into and it has led us to trim some -- there are some things that we have seen degrade a fair amount around the edges. They’re fairly small in the overall size of things, but we’re certainly glad when we see them. And then, what we try to do is to link data that we see to behavior that -- excuse me, to sort of an explanation of what’s going on from a customer and credit dynamic to be able to be -- it makes total sense. So therefore, as things play out, it’s less likely -- and let’s say, we go more into a downturn, it’s less likely on the card side that you would see a big pullback. The kind of things you’d see is more trimming around the edges, more reduction of the credit lines that are given, and that would be more how it would play out.


John Pancari with Evercore ISI.

John Pancari

On the -- regarding the reserve build in terms of the drivers of the reserve build this quarter, I know you cited loan growth, you cited the macro backdrop, and you sited credit normalization. Is there any way to help parse out how much of the build of $1 billion is attributable to loan growth versus macro versus credit normalization?

Andrew Young

Yes. John, we don’t break out those components in part because some of them are actually related to one another. For instance, how we think about qualitative factors and how we think about our base forecast is tied into one another. And so, that’s why we just wanted to lay out that quarter-over-quarter when you look at consensus estimates for things like unemployment, looking ahead at 2023, from where we were as of the end of the third quarter to where we were at the end of the fourth quarter, looking ahead on some of those metrics, we saw a degree of worsening. And when you couple that with shifting forward one quarter and replacing a much lower loss content in the fourth quarter with continued normalization, as I referenced it heading into 2023, those are factors that go into it. But actually not even really able to break out the component parts because they’re tied with one another with all the assumptions.

John Pancari

Okay. No, I get it. That’s helpful. The normalization point, if I could just ask one more thing on that, was there anything about the normalization? And I appreciate the color you already gave. But is there anything about the normalization that you’re seeing that is kind of faster than expected, or any change like that that necessitated the size of the build this quarter?

Andrew Young

No. And I think Rich touched on some of these in one of his earlier responses, but what we’re seeing in terms of normalization is playing out as we expect. It’s part of why I wanted to highlight the fact that the mechanics of the reserve though only take into account that 12-month model period and revert from there. And so, we’re only allowing for the content -- the outstandings content at the end of the quarter as well. So, even if things play out exactly as we expect, we could see allowance build, just like we saw this quarter. It just depends on a whole host of factors.

Jeff Norris

And I think that concludes our Q&A for the evening. Thank you for joining us on the conference call today, and thank you for your continuing interest in Capital One. Investor Relations team will be here later this evening if you have any further questions. Have a good night.

Richard Fairbank

Thank you.


Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes today’s conference call. Thank you for participating, and you may now disconnect.


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