Favorable economic conditions for banks, which include a healthy business sector, a rising interest rate environment, and the impact of tax and regulatory reforms, have resulted in strong earnings for many community banks. While this confluence of positive market developments has led many growing banks to tap public and private markets for additional capital to fund growth opportunities, many other institutions are facing an opposing challenge.
These institutions, many of which are located in non-metropolitan markets, are experiencing record earnings yet do not have existing loan demand to effectively deploy the capital into higher yielding assets. As a result, these institutions must evaluate how best to deploy excess capital in the absence of organic growth opportunities in existing markets to avoid the impact on shareholder returns of reinvestment into the securities portfolio during a period that continues to be characterized by historically low interest rates.
Dividends. Returning excess capital to shareholders through enhanced dividend payouts increases the current income stream provided to shareholders and is often a well-received option. However, in evaluating the appropriate level of dividends, including whether to commence paying or increase dividends, banks should be aware of two potential issues. First, an increase in dividends is often difficult to reverse, as shareholders generally begin to plan for the income stream associated with the enhanced dividend payout. Second, the payment of dividends does not provide liquidity to those shareholders looking for an exit. Accordingly, dividends, while representing an efficient option for deploying excess capital, presents other considerations that should be evaluated in the context of a bank’s strategic planning.
Tender Offers and Other Stock Repurchases. Stock repurchases, whether through a tender offer, stock repurchase plan or other discretionary stock repurchase, enhance liquidity of investment for selling shareholders, while creating value for non-selling shareholders by increasing their stake in the bank. Following a stock repurchase, bank earnings are spread over a smaller shareholder base, which increases earnings per share and the value of each share. Stock purchases can be a highly effective use of excess capital, particularly where the bank believes its stock is undervalued. Because repurchases can be conducted through a number of vehicles, a bank may balance its desire to effectively deploy a targeted amount of excess capital against its need to maintain operational flexibility.
De Novo Expansion into Vibrant Markets. Banks can also reinvest excess capital through organic expansion into new markets through de novo branching and the acquisition of key deposit or loan officers. For example, a rural bank with a high concentration of stable, inexpensive deposits but weak loan demand could expand into a larger market where loan demand is strong but deposit pricing is elevated. By doing so, the bank can leverage excess capital and inexpensive deposits through quality loan growth and, optimize its net interest margin and earnings potential. With advances in technology, overhead costs associated with de novo entry into a new market have substantially decreased, although competition for deposit and loan officers is intense. Startup costs may be further diminished through a loan production office, rather than a branch in a new market.
Mergers and Acquisitions. Banks can deploy excess capital to jumpstart growth through merger and acquisition opportunities. In general, size and scale boost profitability metrics and enhance earnings growth, and mergers and acquisitions can be an efficient mechanism to generate size and scale. Any successful acquisition must be complementary from a strategic standpoint, as well as from a culture perspective. For example, a bank’s acquisition strategy could involve joining forces with, or eliminating, a competitor with a complementary business and corporate culture. Alternatively, it could be driven by corporate objectives to enhance earnings by expanding into a larger market with stronger demand for high-quality loans. On the other hand, an institution based in a metropolitan market may be inclined to target a lower growth market with a high concentration of lower cost, core deposits. In either case, the acquisitions are complementary to the institutions.
All banks with excess capital have strategic decisions to make to maximize shareholder value. In many cases, these decisions result in returning capital to shareholders, while others seek to leverage excess capital in support of future growth. The strategy for deploying excess capital should be a material component of a bank’s strategic planning process. There is no universal, or right, answer for all banks. Each bank must consider its options against its risk tolerance, long-term strategic goals and objectives, shorter term capital needs, management and board capacity.