A Watched Pot Never Boils: Still Waiting on Margin Relief

While net interest margin is a key metric for banks, focusing on other drivers of profitability is one way to combat margin compression in the face of further delays in interest rate hikes or upward pressure on deposit costs. This article considers opportunities for community banks, despite the current environment.

2015: A Good Year for Banks

After weak broad market performance in the first quarter of the year and slow advances during the summer, U.S. stocks generally saw amplified returns in the fourth quarter of 2015. The largest banks (those with over $50 billion in assets) generally performed in line with broad market trends, but most banks outperformed the market with total returns on the order of 10% to 15% for the year.

2015 Bank M&A Recap

The bank M&A market in 2015 could be described as steady, bereft of any blockbuster deals. According to SNL Financial 287 depositories (253 commercial banks and 34 thrifts) agreed to be acquired in 2015 compared to 304 in 2014 and 246 in 2013. What accounts for the activity? In this article, we consider bank M&A trends from 2015 against the broader backdrop of M&A bank transactions.

Recent Trends in Agricultural Production Lending

Although farm income is projected to decline for a second consecutive year in 2015, farmers and the broader agricultural industry have had a great run since the Great Recession. The agricultural lending industry? Not so much. In this article, we consider industry trends such as growing demand for financing and steady rates, while also accounting for alternative sources of lending and implications on asset quality.

August Market Performance & Augustus Caesar

While July and August are equivalent in terms of the number of days, the market environment in these two months during 2015 bore few similarities. In August, volatility returned, commodity prices sank, and expectations of Federal Reserve interest rate action in September diminished.

Strategic Planning for Community Banks on the Mend

Despite much commentary about the significant economic and regulatory headwinds impacting community banks, profitability is on the mend. Key contributors to improving earnings were higher net interest income and lower loan loss provisions. While it is difficult to tell whether community bank earnings have peaked and how long this cycle may last, improving profitability expands the strategic options available to community banks. Selling is one option available to community banks in this environment, but the range of strategic options available is much broader than that as discussed in our article.

Small Bank Holding Companies: Regulatory Update & Key Considerations

During 1980 the Federal Reserve issued the Small Bank Holding Company Policy Statement (“Policy Statement”), which recognized from a regulatory perspective that small bank holding companies have less access to the capital markets and equity financing than large bank holding companies. Although the Fed has sought to limit holding company debt so that the parent can serve as a “source of strength” to its subsidiaries, especially the deposit-taking bank subsidiaries, the Policy Statement allowed small bank holding companies to utilize more debt to finance acquisitions and other ownership transfer-related transactions than would be permitted by large bank holding companies. Considering the updated threshold as of May 15, 2015, we summarize the regulation update and remark on its implications.

How to Combat the Margin Blues?

Aside from paying tribute to the late B.B. King and playing “Everyday, everyday I have the blues,” what can community bankers do in order to combat the margin blues? While not all encompassing, we have listed a few strategic options to consider including increasing leverage, considering M&A, acquiring/partnering with non-financials, improving efficiency by leveraging financial technology, or maintaining the status quo.

Using Employee Stock Ownership Plans: Helping Community Banks with Strategic Issues

In our view, Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs) are an important omission in the current financial environment. Many lack a broader understanding of the possible roles of ESOPs as a tool to manage a variety of strategic issues facing community banks. Given the strategic challenges facing community banks, we strive to help our clients, as well as the broader industry, fill this gap, and discuss some common questions related to ESOPs in the following article.

Recent Trends in the Fair Value of Community Bank Loan Portfolios

Although successful bank acquisitions largely hinge on deal execution and realizing expense synergies, properly assessing and pricing credit represents a primary deal risk. Additionally, the acquirer’s pro forma capital ratios are always important, but even more so in a heightened bank regulatory environment and merger approval process. Against this backdrop, merger-related accounting issues for bank acquirers have become increasingly important in recent years and the most significant fair value mark typically relates to the determination of the fair value of the loan portfolio. Fair value is guided by ASC 820 and defines value as the price received/paid by market participants in orderly transactions. It is a process that involves a number of assumptions about market conditions, loan portfolio segment cash flows inclusive of assumptions related to expected credit losses, appropriate discount rates, and the like. To properly evaluate a target’s loan portfolio, the portfolio should be evaluated on its own merits, but markets do provide perspective on where the cycle is and how this compares to historical levels.

CFPB Sets the Stage for the Federalization of Auto Credit

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Sept. 17 proposed to oversee nonbank auto finance companies, noting that the action was undertaken after it uncovered auto lending discrimination at the banks it supervises. What was striking to me about the release is what appears to be the creeping and maybe soon to be rapid federalization of another credit product.

Return of the Large and Super Regional Buyers?

It is sort of like the pre-crisis days, but not really. Bank acquisition activity involving non-assisted transactions has been gradually building since the financial crisis. The only notable interruption occurred in the second half of 2011 when the downgrade of the U.S. by S&P (but not Moody’s or Fitch) and a funding crisis among many European banks caused markets to fall sharply.

Boston Private Bank & Trust Company Acquisition of Banyan Partners

On July 16th, 2014 Boston Private Financial Holdings, Inc. (NASDAQ ticker: BPFH), the holding company of Boston Private Bank & Trust Company, entered an asset-purchase agreement to acquire Banyan Partners, LLC, a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) headquartered in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida with approximately $4.3 billion in client assets.

Waiting on Margin Relief

Although it is difficult to discern with the ten-year U.S. Treasury presently yielding about 2.4% compared to 3.0% at the beginning of the year, many market participants believe the Federal Reserve will begin to raise the Fed Funds target rate next year. The thought process is not illogical. How high short-term rates may rise is unknown. (A corollary question for others is what, if anything, will the Fed do with its enlarged balance sheet as shown in Table 1.) Pimco’s Bill Gross has opined that the “new neutral” target rate will be around 2% rather than a historical policy bias of 4%. For lenders, money market funds and trust/processing companies, a hike in short rates cannot occur soon enough.

Regulatory Landscape Overview from First Half of 2014

All is never quiet on the regulatory front, and the first half of 2014 was no exception. Below is a discussion of some (but certainly not all) developments affecting financial institutions at the federal regulatory level, from QMs, TruPS CDOs, and CCAR to payday lending, mobile banking, and the fines and penalties parade.

Complacent Investors May Need to Reassess the Earning Power of Some Acquirers

Portfolio manager Grant Williams remarked at John Mauldin’s Strategic Investment Conference in mid-May that there may be a bubble in complacency. Maybe so with the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) below 12, high yield credit trading at tight spreads to Treasurys and other risk measures that are comparable to the period leading up to the 2007-2009 financial crisis.

Is It Time for Banks to Rethink Insurance?

It’s no secret that the number of insurance agency acquisitions by banks and thrifts has declined considerably over the last ten years. According to SNL Financial, an average of 60 agencies were purchased by banks annually between 2004 and 2008. Over the next five years, the average annual tally dropped to 27. The most likely reason for this decline is the effects of the recession and less capital available for investment. Interestingly enough, however, the number of agency divestitures by banks has been fairly constant at about ten per year. In the broader market for insurance agencies/brokerages, transaction volume has only gotten more robust over the last ten years, including a record 361 deals completed in 2012.

Banks Interested in Asset Managers and Trust Companies

In a low interest rate environment coupled with rising capital requirements, many banks are turning their attention to asset managers and trust companies to improve ROE and diversify revenue.

Powered by a fairly steady market tailwind over the last few years, many asset managers and trust companies have more than doubled in value since the financial crisis and may finally be posturing towards some kind of exit opportunity to take advantage of this growth. Still, there are often several overlooked deal considerations that banks and other interested parties should be apprised of prior to purchasing an asset manager or trust company. In this article, we outline our top three considerations when looking to purchase these kinds of businesses in today’s environment.

Tri-State Capital’s Acquisition of Chartwell Investment Partners: A Blueprint for Asset Manager Transactions

On January 7, 2014 Tri-State Capital Holdings, Inc. (NASDAQ ticker: TSC), the holding company of Pittsburgh-based TriState Capital Bank, entered a definitive asset-purchase agreement to acquire Chartwell Investment Partners, L.P., a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) in the Philadelphia area with approximately $7.5 billion in assets under management (AUM). Unlike most acquisitions of closely held RIAs, the terms of the deal were disclosed via a conference call and investor presentation; the details of which are outlined in this article.

2013 Year-End Market Recap: Winners and Lesser Winners

While many banks chafe under tightening regulatory policy directed by the Federal Reserve and other agencies, the Fed’s monetary policy has, however, created favorable conditions for equity investors. Likewise, the Fed’s monetary policy has compressed spreads on credit-sensitive assets and negated the return on holding liquidity. From bank management’s perspective, these conditions have led to continued deterioration in asset yields, pressure to extend loan portfolio durations, and few remaining alternatives to reduce funding costs. In sum, the Federal Reserve and other agencies have created conditions that complicate bank managers’ decision making – namely, greater regulatory burdens and the effects of a prolonged low interest rate period. However, the Fed’s monetary policy also has created conditions ripe for expansion of banks’ stock prices.

Credit Marks on Acquired Loan Portfolios Trend Down During 2013

Merger related accounting issues for bank acquirers are often complex. In recent years, the credit mark on the acquired loan portfolio has often been cited as an impediment to M&A activity as this mark can be the most critical component that determines whether the pro-forma capital ratios are adequate. As economic conditions have improved in 2013, bank M&A activity has also picked up and we thought it would be useful to take a look at the estimated credit marks for some of the larger deals announced in 2013 (i.e., where the acquirer was publicly traded and the reported deal values were greater than $100 million) to see if any trends emerged.

Share Repurchases

Many bank analysts have been arguing that investors should buy bank stocks because capital is building faster than it can be deployed. The Federal Reserve, unlike during the pre-crisis era, is governing the amount of capital returned to shareholders. Basel III is another governor, especially given the enhanced leverage ratio requirement large U.S. banks are facing. But are buybacks a good idea for bank managers today?