“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” — Benjamin Franklin
Mergers and acquisitions may be sidelined for the foreseeable future because of considerable economic and market uncertainty related to the coronavirus pandemic, but PNC’s Financial Institutions Group anticipates activity will likely reignite when market volatility eases, and asset quality can be confidently assessed.
Savvy bankers and investors recognize that the best deals generally occur when bank valuations are low, but the credit downturn may just be starting, so the timetable for a pickup in deal activity remains unclear. Not to mention, there may be many coronavirus-related issues to still sort out, so the possibility of future government-assisted deals cannot be ruled out.
Recent history supports this post-crisis resumption. Deal activity slowed measurably at the start of the Great Recession, dropping from 285 deals in 2007 to 174 in 2008, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. It picked up again once potential buyers gained more clarity regarding both their own balance sheets as well as those of potential sellers.
Credit Quality is Key
The uncertain environment underlines that nothing is more significant to a bank’s capital and earnings than its credit quality. It is anticipated that credit costs will continue to climb and remain elevated for quite some time following the sudden and shocking increase to unemployment and government-mandated business closures. So, looking at balance sheets — not income statements — will provide the necessary clues to differentiate banks in a downward credit cycle. But these issues will eventually get resolved.
The uncertainty could give way to wider pricing disparity among community banks. Bank earnings for the quarter ending on March 31 were inconclusive, and eclipsed by coronavirus-related economic developments and stock market volatility. The vast majority of companies did not provide guidance, but the overall lower direction appears clear, as credit will likely be a major concern for the next several quarters.
Investors and analysts appear to have a wide range of opinions; high levels of market angst seem likely to persist into the foreseeable future. There will, however, be winners and losers among banks across the nation. This emerging pricing gap could lead to increased M&A activity as more deals make financial sense.
Cash, Capital Rule
Bank boards should consider all liquidity and capital options under various economic scenarios to construct stronger balance sheets as credit conditions start to deteriorate. This preparation holds true for all banks: potential buyers, sellers and those committed to independence.
Along with more dynamic trading strategies, there will be a need to vigorously assess capital-raising options, cash dividend payments and stock repurchase programs. To start, companies should seriously consider emphasizing internal “burn down” tangible book value models. We believe that sensitivity models tailored to individual banks can best identify additional capital needs and, if so, what form of capital is best suited for current and longer-term strategic plans.
Equity offerings carry their own pros and cons. They can strengthen bank balance sheets but dilute earnings per share. Given current market conditions, these issuances may be difficult to achieve and limited to high-quality institutions that can issue equity on financially attractive terms (including tangible book value accretion).
The benefits from an equity capital raise include, but are not limited to: the ability to grow organically above the sustainable growth rate; stronger capital ratios and a bigger cushion to withstand the credit downturn; greater liquidity and visibility from institutional investors; and providing support for M&A opportunities, which may be abundant in the post-coronavirus landscape.
Some institutions may find issuing subordinated debt (“sub debt”) to be a better alternative than raising additional equity capital. Debt remains relatively inexpensive due to attractive interest rates and favorable tax treatment. The market for sub debt became more stable by early June, which has facilitated several issuances at favorable pricing levels.
The question for bank directors and management going forward is how to properly value capital raising and any M&A initiatives. They will need to take a hard look at financial models to determine required rates of return and sustainable growth rates along with regulatory needs. Efficient capital management that optimizes long-term shareholder value should always be the primary goal of directors in good markets, bad markets and those in-between.
The views expressed in this article are the views of PNC FIG Advisory, PNC’s investment banking practice for community and regional banks.