Small Banking Revisited

Periodically I encounter an article that hits at the core of one of my strategies.  As many of  you know, I’m currently a little overweight financials with an emphasis on regional banks.  This was not always the case as I (fortunately) exited the sector in late 2007  reentering only in early 2013.  My five year pause was bookended by what Richard J. Parsons refers to as the Great Panic of 2008-2009.  His article, Finding Alpha In Reliable Dividend Banks(14 June 2017) struck a chord with me and illustrated some of the style I came to embrace for a time. Though I’m not selling my banks, other than special situations, I’m currently not a buyer either.  If you are a bank investor (or considering being one) I’d recommend reading his article.

His article highlights 30 regionals that actually raised dividends during the Panic.  By comparison, my hypothesis was segmented into three ‘buckets’ which were:
1.Good dividend payers
2.Stock dividend payers
3.Acquisition candidates

Although he includes some stock payers (CMBH, AROW, SBSI, and FLIC (roundups on splits)) this is not his article’s focus.  I’ve written on these before so I’ll exclude them.

His article also points out that only one of the original 30 was acquired which is a slight disappointment when one of my goals is to obtain a merger premium.  Several on his list were acquirers which kind of proves my rationale to expand the universe to include potential acquisition targets in my bank holdings a couple of years ago.

Leaving us with his list.  One notable point is his geographic analysis.  “Certain states are more likely to be home to these reliable dividend banks: Indiana, Texas, California, Kentucky, Missouri, and upper state New York.”  This melds with my findings though I attributed this to state regulatory agencies as certain states had disproportionate numbers of bank failures.  Therefore I excluded western (California) and southern US banks.  To his mix, I found Pennsylvania to be a viable candidate as well.  This difference could be that mutual conversions (notably preeminent in PA, NY, NJ, VA and MA) were identified as likely targets by my study.

Another note on his analysis, “…a few critical factors influence long-term success in banking: hands-on expert management…”  In fact he elaborates a little on this in the comment stream.  A tidbit is both Missouri banks on his list were established by the Kemper family.

So the actual question is how do my portfolio holdings stack up against his list?  Half of the thirty are owned.  Of the nine owned by Richard, seven are owned (one obtained via a merger).  One being in California was excluded by geographic screening.  I’m not sure offhand though, why I excluded CBU out of New York.  My primary takeaway from his article was a validation of my strategy and I need to further investigate a few.

His complete list follows:

Access National ANCX 1.4B VA
Arrow Financial Corp. AROW 2.7B NY
Auburn National Bancorp AUBN .8B AL
BancFirst Corp.   BANF 7.2B OK
Bar Harbor Bankshares  BHB 3.4B ME
Bank of Marin Bancorp BMRC 2.0B CA
Bryn Mawr Bank Corp. BMTC 3.3B PA
Bank of Oklahoma   BOKF 32.6B OK
Commerce Bancshares   CBSH 25.3B MO
Community Bank System CBU 8.9B NY
Cullen/Frost Bankers CFR 30.5B TX
Community Trust Bancorp CTBI 4.0B KY
First Capital  FCAP .8B IN
First of Long Island Corp.  FLIC 3.6B NY
Farmers & Merchants Bancorp  FMCB 3.0B CA
Horizon Bancorp   HBNC 3.2B IN
National Bankshares NKSH 1.2B VA
Norwood Financial Corp.  NWFL 1.1B PA
Bank of the Ozarks OZRK 19.2B AR
Prosperity Bancshares  PB 22.5B TX
People’s United Financial, Inc.   PBCT 40.2B CT
Stock Yards Bancorp  SYBT 3.0B KY
Tompkins Financial Corp.  TMP 6.3B NY
United Bankshares UBSI 14.8B WV
UMB Financial Corp.  UMBF 20.6B MO
Westamerica   WABC 5.4B CA
Washington Trust  WASH 4.4B RI
First Source  SRCE 5.5B IN
First Financial THFF 3.0B IN
Southside Bancshares SBSI 5.7B TX
Bold-owned by Richard, Italics-owned by me
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A Sea of Change

There are events that present opportunities through chaos and the US election – as Brexit was – appears to be one.   During these times as the sands are shifting I find it prudent to attempt to handicap the situation identifying strengths and weaknesses primarily using my portfolio as a lens.  Many questions currently have no answers and some stock gains appear to be based on assumptions more than facts.  I do reserve the right to modify my thoughts as more data is obtained.

REITs have generally taken a beating primarily on interest rate fears.  but the same could be said for Telecoms and Utilities.  Telecoms appear to have been spared due to M&A activity.

Financials appear to be a tale of diverging paths.  Pundits are bullish on the big banks but not so much on the little guys.  My guess is M&A will slow among the small banks as Dodd-Frank is tweaked but will accelerate as the reality of profitability through synergy is identified.  Multinational banks will continue to have to deal with Basel III to remain competitive globally tempering some of potential gains.

Healthcare is a wildcard.  To repeal a dysfunctional new scheme to implement an old dysfunctional scheme without morphing it into a newly dysfunctional scheme is ludicrous and where this sector’s profits will be found (until Congress gets wise).

Discretionary will depend on the economy – is the new plan recessionary?

And Mexico?  Strangely silent have been F, UTX, KO, DE and a host of others with operations there.  Then there is the NAFTA treaty which requires Senate action to modify.  It’s difficult to see many California or Texas senators supporting an action that would raise unemployment and reduce tax receipts by shuttering logistics centers.

Basically I see no immediate strategic portfolio change but additional diligence will be required.  A possible watch list might include UMBF, WBS and ONB for exposure to Health Spending Accounts (HSAs); KSU (Mexican trade); and KOF.  Other then the peso valuation and the ADR trade, I know of no other US exposure for KOF (Coca-Cola Femsa).

And how are you surviving?

Madness (Pt 2) Updated

Last year I published Methods To My Madness Pt 2 where I presented part of my non-core investing strategies.  One section has seen some activity in the broader market recently to the point I figured an update was warranted.  The section in question:

Not so obvious are Webster, UMB Financial, Health Equity, UnitedHealth and Xerox.  Each of these companies operate Health Savings/ Flexible Spending Plans.

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